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China: Day 1 & 2 – A Couple of Sleepy Dragons

Whew, whew, whew! It took 28.5 hours of total travel time yesterday, and a full day today of being complete bums… but we are finally settled into China enough to post an update here.

Our travel day started with a 4:00am wake-up call Wednesday morning to catch an early flight from Nashville, so we set our stopwatch as we walked out our front door… knowing there would be a laughable amount of time until we reached our first hotel's front steps. Counting the 2 hour flight to Chicago, first layover, 14 hour flight to Shanghai, long second layover, 2 hour flight to Guilin, plus 1 hour “taxi” to Yangshuo… it was just shy of 30 hours door-to-door. Counting a 13 hour time difference (ahead of U.S. Central), we finally walked into our room around 10pm Thursday night (a full 42 hours “lost”, so to speak!). All in all though, we can’t complain one bit: our flights were on time, our seats were great, we’re on cloud nine, and logistically we arrived safe and sound, with no delays or problems whatsoever.

As a side note, being in Shanghai for a few hours was intensely emotional for us. From the moment our airplane wheels touched the ground, a swell of chills hit my body knowing that we were (for the moment) walkable to our daughter. Granted, Nanjing is three hours away by car and walking would take days. But what used to be oceans and continents was finally only miles separating us from our love (whose list of nicknames keeps growing, to now include “The Bee” … short for “JuJuBe”).

With Shanghai being such an international city, the airport itself was only a bit of an “other side of this world” feeling. There were still a few other western passengers. But once we boarded our flight to Guilin – being two of only three Caucasians on the entire plane (and seemingly the only ones who skipped the mystery meal in a box) – that’s when the official culture shock began. Upon landing in Guilin (a much smaller city with a relatively small airport), we got the full-on first taste of Chinese culture as we envisioned. Best of all, we used our first “squatty potty” in the airport restroom itself… basically just a hole in the floor that you hover over (with no toilet paper offered)! Thank goodness Sarah’s mom skills have already kicked in and she packed tissues and wet wipes in our carry-on. It was noisy, crowded, and hot. Electronic toys spun on the ground and in the air, for sale in the airport “flea market” alongside some unrecognizable meats. All of that, combined with being the only Westerners in sight is what made us first feel like we had truly arrived.

We were greeted at the baggage claim exit by our guide, Bing, who was an extremely nice fellow, about our age, who spoke very good English (having lived for a couple of years in South Africa). The drive from Guilin to Yangshuo Thursday night was extremely pleasant, being a dark, hazy evening with the smell of orange blossoms outside in the thick muggy air as we drove with the windows down… and had the most unexpected, pleasant conversation with our new friend. The moment his cell phone rang to the sound of “Sweet Home Alabama”, we knew we liked this guy Bing and would have plenty to talk about. He had never been to the USA but knew a fair amount about our culture. His favorite movie of all time is Forrest Gump, as you would logically expect, right? Most touching to us was the brief chat about his 4-year-old daughter and China’s new relaxation of the one-child policy that just recently gave him and his wife the option of having a second child, because they were both only children themselves. There were so many questions we were itching to ask about his situation, but for obvious reasons we kept it light instead. The most fun discussion point: when we told Bing our gal’s Chinese middle name, he said it was a name commonly used here for “elegant women”. So there’s that!

Even though we checked into our mountain retreat hotel late in the evening and could only see the silhouettes of the karst peaks through the dark haze, we could hear the running water of the Yulong River just below us. It’s nicknamed the “Dragon River” here, and this mythical creature is represented throughout the premises, including the balcony railing where my feet rest as I type. China has often been nicknamed the “Sleeping Dragon” and the little lotus was born in the year of the dragon (2012), so we’re more than content in this place with such symbolism.

When we awoke this morning (Friday), our eyes were certainly met with all the amazement we could have expected. The view is stunning (as seen in the pictures below), to say the least, and this setting is exactly what we wanted in order to recover from the jet lag and put our minds and bodies at peace before the real adventure begins Monday. Our first day here was simple. We essentially just ate a late breakfast, including Guilin rice noodles with pork and peanuts. We strolled the property and surrounding area, and of course I’m putting my camera to good use (many more pictures to come once we’re back home). Then we continued the Chinese delicacies at lunch, with stir fried vegetables and local fried rice with egg and chilies. An accidental 2+ hour nap during a light rain shower must have been what the doctor ordered. Then we ate a late dinner, again here at the retreat, consisting of “western style” choices this time… soup, roasted potatoes, and some basic Chinese stir fry broccoli. Bore-ing! Cut us some slack though – between the nerves, loss of sleep, and new foods, our tummies were already hankering for something familiar.

So tonight, we’re sitting on this lovely balcony in our quaint and friendly inn, Sarah wearing authentic local slippers that were offered in our room, with both of us sipping on some tea in beautiful coffee mugs embellished with exquisite Chinese characters. The joke is that the mugs probably say “World’s Best Grandmother” or “A Bad Day at the Golf Couse is Better than a Good Day at Work” … but we choose to believe it’s something deep and meaningful instead.

Tomorrow maybe we’ll venture out into a nearby village on bikes, or maybe not. In short: since we were required to get in country a couple of days in advance anyway and we’ll have big cities in our itinerary ahead, we keep telling each other that there’s nowhere else we’d rather be getting settled in than here. It’s so rustic and peaceful, with only a Chinese lantern and the moon above us, and the sound of the water and some sort of crickets for miles. Oh, plus a resident cat and an adorable hotel manager named “Little Fish”.

Everyone throughout China so far has been extremely friendly. Maybe it’s because they find our butchering attempt at the Mandarin language endearing. We’ve both heard and said about 20 different versions of the few words we know, so we’ll just keep trying, using lots of gestures, and hoping they know we’re doing our best to honor their culture via native tongue.

Our stomachs are doing OK on the food so far (although the chilies from my two dishes might not have been the best idea), and of course we’re careful not to drink any tap water. We’re keeping the nerves in check, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you HOW MUCH we appreciated your latest round of messages via Facebook, text, and what not. We needed a little boost before dinner tonight, and once we finally accessed Facebook (thanks to a VPN via Switzerland!), reading your amazingly encouraging comments was exactly what we needed to hear. We felt a lot less “halfway around the world” knowing that our collective hearts and thoughts are all in the same exact place. We’re blessed to have you guys in our court.

Since our internet connection is shotty out here in the countryside, we’ll likely not provide another update until we get to Nanjing on Sunday. In the meantime, the countdown is on, and it’s getting so close that we can start using hours to track time. Depending on when our appointment is Monday, we could be looking at less than 60 hours until we hold the lotus in our arms forever. LESS THAN 60 HOURS! Insane, I tell ya. If it is at all possible, being in her country for less than two days somehow makes us know, love, and respect her even more. There’s something about China that is so beautifully disheveled, and every young girl we’ve seen stops us in our tracks with their joy and beauty. The little lotus could have been any one of these amazing gals running around in the airport with her birth family, or serving us at the restaurant in this small town. But she was meant to be ours. The invisible red thread was linked to us, and us to her. Of that, we’re sure, and for that, we’re thankful.

And with those final words, these two sleepy dragons are off to bed. We’ll see if our body clocks have adjusted yet, and/or if the adrenaline of what’s around the corner will keep us up this second night overseas.

Xiè xie again, friends and family! Until the next time…

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"I am a lotus flower – delicate, fragile, yet strong... floating, unfolding, and blossoming into the life where I belong.”