Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Transition to Home

Here's a photo of Alex on our couch on one of his first days home. He's wearing a cute new outfit he received as a gift.

Here's a series of photos taken at breakfast after we got his new booster seat. Alex loves to make faces.

We've been home for one month now already. It's amazing. Coming home was harder than I imagined. We had fallen into a nice pattern of sleeping well and waking up happy by end of our stay in Vietnam. Upon returning home we quickly felt sleep deprived. Alex woke up 3-4 times per night. Hung's cough got better, but I started coughing and losing my voice. When my voice returned, Hung started coughing again - this time with a fever. Between the jetlag and the illnesses and Alex's adjustment to a new place, new climate, new time zone, new everything and our adjustment to being parents while living everyday lives at home, we were all exhausted. Week three was much better for sleeping. After we got Alex a Baby In a Bag sleeping sack he started sleeping through the night. We suspect he was kicking off the blankets in his sleep and waking up cold. Once we were getting a solid night's sleep, I felt like I could get a few things done during nap time. I've slowly been catching up on all kinds of little tasks and today is the day to post some more photos and blog notes. Week four Alex was waking up at night again and fighting nap time. We suspect teething pain was the main cause. This week we've started off sleeping pretty well.

When he's well-rested and getting what he wants, Alex is a very happy kid. Smiles and laughter regularly fill our house. When one of us has been gone for a while, whether out of the house or just downstairs, he shrieks with glee and his face lights up in a huge grin as he dashes to greet the returned parent. It's very sweet to come home to that greeting. I've always appreciated the cat's greeting at the door, but this is way better.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

We're Coming Home!

Friday, November 7th
We're coming home early. Our travel agent woke us last night with news that some seats opened up on Friday night's flight. We had asked a few days ago and at that time it was sold out. Hung has been feeling under the weather and we are ready to get settled in at home with a new routine. We have very much enjoyed our time in Vietnam, and now we are excited to go home and introduce Alex to our world in Minnesota.

Today we're having a low-key day napping and packing. We leave tonight at 11:50pm on a red-eye flight to Korea. We'll arrive in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon around 1:30pm on a NW flight from Chicago. Mom & Dad, will you be home this weekend?

Here are some photos from last night's pre-bedtime playfulness. In the first photo we caught him the middle of saying "Ba" (Dad in Vietnamese). He added "di" (?sp?, pronounced 'Dee'), meaning "go" in Vietnamese, to his vocabulary last night. This morning he's been practicing "hi" quite a bit.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wednesday in Hanoi

Wednesday, November 5th.
We woke up excited to check on the election results, but the polls were still open at home.

This morning we (Hung, Siiri, Karin, Rosemary & kiddos) decided to explore on foot in a new direction. We walked to the West Lake and along the shore for a little bit. Then we headed south past the presidential palace and the Ho Chi Minh Memorial and Mausoleum. What a contrast from the Old Quarter where we explored on Monday! The streets are very broad, the sidewalks are wide and empty of motorbikes and vendors. Everything looks so vast and open. We wanted to sit at a cafe to rest, but couldn't see anyplace in view so we asked a guard for directions. We walked three blocks to a cafe, then retraced our steps to visit the One Pillar Pagoda (pictured). Hung is still feeling under the weather so took a cab back to the hotel.

The cab dropped us at the corner where we procured bread and sandwich meat and Rosemary picked up a kohlrabi. We all ate together in our room while the kids played on the floor. How much easier and happier a mealtime than last night! We checked the election results together. Hung and I are very pleased and relieved that our school district's operating referendum passed by a healthy margin this time around. That's good news for Alex's school.

We retired to nap the afternoon away again. We planned to rendezvous with Karin & Co. to go to the water puppet show after naptime. Alex was playful and reluctant to nap, but he did eventually. After naptime we fed him instant porridge. He happily ate it. Maybe this is what we should be doing every night. By the time we took a taxi to the water puppet theater, all but the late show was sold out. We opted to buy early matinee tickets for tomorrow instead. So we walked through the Old Quarter back in the direction of our hotel again. The streets really are alive at night in Vietnam. It's as though everyone's living room is the sidewalk in front of their shop. Lots of kids and babies were out, most of them wanting to wave and chat with our kids. We ate dinner at Little Hanoi since we'd enjoyed our lunch there on Monday. Little Hanoi even had a fan on. (Most restaurants have been stuffy - I guess the locals find the weather cold so they aren't using fans or airconditioning now). Alex wasn't hungry since we'd already fed him, but I managed to keep him pretty well entertained through constant interaction. It was a successful dinner out!

Tuesday: Rest, Visa, Homesick for Saigon

Tuesday, November 4th
Tuesday we spent most of the day resting in our hotel room. Hung has a cold and he and Alex napped together.

At 2pm we had our appointment at the US Embassy to complete Alex's immigration visa application. It went very quickly and we were done within 15 minutes. Now all our official adoption business here is done and we are free to come home with Alex.

Tuesday evening was a low point for me. Here are some notes I wrote then:
Hung and Alex are both asleep and I'm checking my email. I'm feeling bummed. We went to a restaurant that was recommended by the hotel front desk staff, but it was disappointing. It turned out to be a fancy restaurant and we felt very much on edge the whole time because of the setting and the fact that we had two squirmy babies with us. Alex started out okay and was eating his soup, but when he got squirmy things got difficult because this was NOT the sort of place you could let a kid run up and down the aisle in. I stood up to hold and bounce him to settle him down and the staff swooped in and started clearing the table. But we hadn't finished eating! Hung told them he was still eating so they brought him a new plate and silverware. Alex seemed okay as long as I was standing with him. I was drinking water and he wanted some too so I held the glass up for him to sip. I set it down to take a bite of food, but I saw him reaching for the glass again. I thought I grabbed the glass in time, but even though I had it in my hand he smacked it out of my hand and it crashed against the table and shattered into a million pieces. No one was hurt, but I was thoroughly embarassed. I took Alex out to the street while Hung paid the bill and gathered up our baby gear. Of course Alex was perfectly fine once we were out on the street, smiling and blinking/winking at me and waving at passersby. Finding a place to eat dinner feels hard in Hanoi. We already had our bearings in Saigon and now we're starting all over again. We have some general sense of where things are, but we don't know where to eat. All the restaurants in the guidebook are at least several long blocks away, and most are further. That's why we stayed at the fancy restaurant - if we would have left, we wouldn't have known where else to go. In Saigon there was so much of everything just within two or three blocks of our hotel. I guess we're a little bit homesick for Saigon. Hung says the northern dialect is hard for him to understand too. In Saigon he understood 80%, but here it's more like 10-20% of what people are saying.

Alex's habits and activities

Thursday, November 6th
Life with Alex keeps getting better and better. He still wakes up crying at night sometimes, but being in an elevator or a car or a hotel room is no longer grounds for tears. Tuesday was the first time he got up in the morning without crying and the trend continued Wednesday and today. He likes to engage us constantly, whether it's walking back and forth carrying things to us, or beeping noses, or blinking/winking at each other. He loves the telephone and is constantly picking up the receiver to listen to the dial tone. In the lobby he always looks up when the phone at the front desk rings. In the lobby his favorite game is picking up the tabletop cocktail promotion, pulling the paper out of its base, and handing it to us to reassemble. The doorman got in on the game too, and added another dimension by placing the placard in harder to reach places for Alex to retrieve. At mealtimes he wants to keep his hands busy and really wants to imitate Mom and Dad with our utensils. He tries to feed himself in between the bites I feed him, but not much makes it to his mouth when he's wielding the spoon/fork. He loves to help me stir his soup or congee to cool it off. He's been really good at mealtimes, especially if he's hungry and not too tired. Breakfasts are the best. Dinners are much more challenging. He's much more squirrelly then and we have to work hard to keep him engaged while we try to make sure that we get fed too. He eats most foods we offer him, but he likes yogurt best. If we start off feeding him yogurt, he wants nothing but more yogurt. So we usually start off with soup or congee, then fruit or bits of meat/rice/bread, and save the yogurt for last. He always has room for yogurt. He still cries for his bottle several times a day, especially at nap time and bed time. He seems to rely on the bottle as a pacifier and will continue to suck on it long after it is empty. He refuses to take a regular pacifier.

The second photo is the view from the 11th floor breakfast room at our hotel.

Last night Alex was laughing and playing so hard in bed that he didn't want to go to sleep. It started out with me moving his legs in the game my parents played about the dog walking, running, then jumping over the fence into the yard. Then we had some belly kisses and laughs. We also had lots of rolling around and tossing himself into the pillows. He also started to practice talking. He's been a very quiet kid, but last night he was saying "Ba, ba, ba" over and over again. He's also working on "hi" and a couple of times he said "ow, wow." It was so much fun to hear him laughing so much. After a while we wished he would settle down and sleep, but it was worth it to experience him in this new, joyful, state of being.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hanoi in the Rain

Monday morning we met our Hanoi contact in the hotel lobby to go over our documents. Or rather, Hung went over documents while I followed Alex as he toddled around the lobby. Our contact tells us the rain is expected to continue at least through Thursday.

So we put on our rain jackets and set out to explore Hanoi. We started out making a tour around our block where we found a little grocery and stocked up on water. People were friendly and interested in the baby in Saigon, but they are even more so here. We feel like celebrities walking down the street as people everywhere smile and wave at us and often stop us to talk to us and touch the baby. The women at the grocery stall gave him a lollipop. The old woman pictured with Hung gave us some sweet bean cakes. She told us she is 80 years old and feels very strong.
Next we made our way toward Hoan Kiem Lake. Only when we reached the lake did people come up to us to try to sell us things. In all the other streets they were just interested in the baby. Part of the attention may have been because of the backpack kid carrier. We even noticed some people taking pictures of us. The carrier worked well this day because we walked long distances and the rain fly kept most of the rain off the kid. At the lake we stopped to rest and have some ice cream.

Next we made a tour of the lake, including a visit to the temple on the little island accessed via the red bridge. At the south end of the lake we met another adoptive family and stopped to chat for a few minutes. We decided to stop for lunch in the Old Quarter on our way back to the hotel. We tried to go to Koto, a restaurant recommended by the guidebook and by people on the vietnam adoption forum, but our guidebook was out of date and it had moved to another neighborhood. The next place to tried was Little Hanoi, and we were rewarded with a tasty meal. Back at the hotel it was nap time for a couple of hours until we ventured out again for dinner.

For dinner we decided to try Highway 4, recommended by the guidebook and by the hotel concierge. We thought we could walk there, but it was much farther than it looked on the map. We were exhausted by the time we got there, and then they seated us in an upper room with Japanese style seating on floor cushions around a low table. Hung commented that this would have been a lot more comfortable if we were 15 years younger. The kids were cranky and tired too, and we struggled through dinner, but the food was delicious. The catfish spring rolls were wonderful and Hung said his fried rice was the best he's had since arriving in Vietnam. We took a cab home and promptly crashed in bed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

From Saigon to Mui Ne and back again.

Hello from Hanoi! We arrived this afternoon to a rainy city coping with flooding. We haven't seen much of Hanoi yet, but here are some notes from the past few days.

Wednesday we were in Saigon for adoption related appointments. In this photo Alex is looking out our hotel room window at the street. He hated being in our room there and cried whenever we entered it. He loves to be outside and looking out the window was our best way to stop the crying during the daytime. He loves to be outside and did I mention the nannies say he likes to play in the mud? A child after my own heart.

Thursday through Saturday we were at the Seahorse Resort & Spa in Mui Ne, about a four hour drive from Saigon. It was very relaxing and enjoyable. I wish we could have stayed a whole week. I would love to come back again.

Alex has changed so much already since he first became ours last Tuesday. On Wednesday he accepted food from us for the first time. We were eating pho at Pho 2000 near the Ben Thanh market when he made it clear that he wanted some too. On Thursday evening he wanted to stand and walk around for the first time. Up until then he cried unless we held him constantly. We were having a group dinner at a restaurant in Mui Ne and he became quite a squirrel squirming and running around. Now he loves to walk. Here's a photo of him walking outside our hotel building at the Seahorse Resort in Mui Ne. On Friday at lunch he smiled and laughed for the first time. (Sorry, we didn't catch it on camera). We were eating out on the terrace overlooking the beach and he was getting squirrelly so I set him down and let him loose (it was late for lunch and we were the only ones there). He ran across the deck to small table and banged on it with glee. It was wonderful to see his smile and hear his laughter!
Here's a photo of breakfast on the terrace.
Here we are exploring the beach.
After exploring the beach we stopped to visit Kellen and his mom who were sitting by the pool. Kellen has lots of fun toys and he was willing to share!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And then there were three

I'm sorry I've kept you in suspense for so long. You may have guessed by my internet silence the past three days that we have been occupied with our little boy. We visited the orphanage on Monday and again on Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon we went back for another visit while Karin and her mom went for their G&R. While we were chatting with the nannies (the kids were napping), the phone rang with the news that the officials had decided to do our G&R that afternoon after all! The van was coming to get us immediately. One nanny plucked Alex out of his crib and plunked him into the bath while other nannies rushed around gathering diapers and formula to send with us. When the van returned Hung and I changed clothes in a storage closet and off we went. The G&R itself was less ceremonial than I had imagined. I must have seen photos from G&Rs in other provinces or in China that took place in a ceremonial hall with a big banner. Ours was in a conference room around an oval table with the officials on one side and us on the other side of the table. We signed a bunch of papers, they presented us with his original birth certificate and all of his medical records, and then they handed us our child. Oh, and there was a moment for us to say a few words to thank the officials and tell how we plan to raise the child. Trang encouraged Hung to give his speech in Vietnamese. He was reluctant and thought his didn't know the right words in Vietnamese. She said he should talk like he was talking to his mother. He did it and the officials were really touched.
Alex seems like a well adjusted kid. He gradually warmed up to us during our visits in the orphanage. He liked to keep moving around the room delivering toys from here to there and occasionally checking in with his nanny for a hug. Since we've had him with us he's been thoroughly grief-stricken. He cries a lot and wants to be held constantly. This is a good sign. It means that he was well-attached to his nanny and is capable of becoming well-attached to us. But the poor boy is very sad right now.

I have so many stories to tell about our visits in the orphanage and our time with Alex since the G&R, but I'm tired and need to rest. I'll at least leave you with a few photos. Two are from our orphanage visit on Monday afternoon and one is of the official hand-off at the G&R.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Sunday, October 26th

We hadn't exactly planned it, but today turned into a shopping day and it was fun. Karen and Rosemary stopped by after breakfast and we went out together. After changing money in preparation for tomorrow's trip to Ben Tre, we shopped for souvenirs, gifts, and snacks at Ben Thanh Market and the Tax Center downtown. It was a hot and sunny day. After shopping we checked out the Notre Dame Cathedral and had lunch at one of the restaurants near the Reunification Palace that Trang had recommended. We were relieved to sit in a cool, comfortable place after walking around in the hot sun. Soon after we got back to the hotel it started to rain. Perfect timing!

Di Ba Phuong called and said she'd like to accompany us to Ben Tre. She won't be allowed to visit the orphanage, but she's coming along for the trip. Tomorrow we get to meet out son!

Tonight we're meeting Uncle Hong and Nga for pho.

Saturday with Di Phuong & Duong Ba

Saturday, October 25

This morning we met Karin and her mom, Rosemary, at breakfast. They are adopting from the same orphanage through the same agency. After breakfast we had a meeting with Trang, the main Children's Home Society staff person in Vietnam. We are planning to go to Ben Tre on Monday with Karin and Rosemary even though our G&R has not been scheduled yet. We figure we can at least visit the orphanage and spend some time with Alex. Trang said there is a slim chance that our G&R might get scheduled in time to take place Tuesday with Karen's and that we should pack as though it will take place so that we'll be prepared.

After the meeting we went out with Karen & Rosemary to find the shopping centers that Trang told us about. While we were out Hung got a phone call from Di Ba Phuong wondering where we were. We thought they had invited us over for dinner, but we must have misunderstood and they meant lunch. So we jumped in a taxi and headed out to their house. The taxi got lost and Duong Ba had to come on his motobike and guide the taxi the rest of the way.

Wow, what a feast they served us! Six courses all together! First we had crab soup with quail eggs - so good! Second course was egg rolls, really crispy and tasty like the ones at breakfast at the hotel. Di Ba explained that Hung's mom's eggrolls aren't as crispy because she makes them the old way. In Vietnam now they use taro instead of cabbage and they use a different wrapper. The third course was HUGE shrimp - Delicious! Di Ba peeled mine for me. Hung and I agree that this was the best course. Fourth course was squid - also very tasty. Fifth was Banh Xeo which she knew is one of our favorite dishes. Finally we finished our meal with fruit.

After lunch Di Ba outfitted us with helmets and face masks and we headed off on motorbikes. I wish I had a picture of us, but we were too busy hanging on. We stopped at Dam Sen Park, an amusement park/zoo/garden. We spent the afternoon walking around, chatting, and taking pictures. On the way back to the hotel we stopped for noodles with wontons. The food made me think of late night trips to the Village Wok with Thu An, Van, and Ly, but these wontons were bigger, fatter, and tastier (stuffed with shrimp) than at Village Wok.

Riding on a motorbike was less scary than crossing the street filled with swarms of motorbikes. It was a constant speeding and slowing as traffic merged at every intersection, but our speed never exceeded 20 mph. It was great to get a chance to see the city the way most Vietnamese see it - from the back of a motorbike.
Hung & I went to bed early and it felt good!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rainy Friday

Friday, October 24th

The rain has returned. It rained all morning. Duong Ba (Hung's mom's cousin's husband) met us at our hotel this morning and took us on a tour of the Reunification Palace. He enjoyed trying out our camera and took pictures of us in every room. Here's one of us in the party room on the roof of the palace. Even though we had rain jackets, we were drenched by the time Duong Ba left us back at the hotel. Di Ba Phuong is out of town today. When she returns tonight they may take us out to dinner by the river.

We had lunch at the hotel because we didn't feel like going out into the rain again. After lunch the rain paused so we took a walk around the block. We noticed so much that we had just walked by without seeing yesterday. Saigon is truly sensory overload. Yesterday we were so busy taking in the traffic and street life that we didn't see any of the shops alongside it. Today we discovered a beautiful Chinese restaurant tucked down a garden passageway. It looks like a great place to go back for dim sum. We also found a travel agent just down the street and picked up some brochures on excursions to the Mekong Delta and Nga Trang. We didn't have our camera along for the walk so I'll put in a traffic photo from yesterday.

We were ready to fall asleep at 7pm again, but we stayed awake so Duong Ba and Di Ba Phuong could take us out to dinner at 8. Di Phuong commented that she would have never recognized Hung since this was the first time she had seen him since he was four years old (33 yrs ago).

The ground was wet and puddled, but the rain slowed to a sprinkle for our walk down to the river where we ate on a dinner cruise boat. We walked through the heart of downtown Saigon, where even on a rainy night the streets were filled with life. We had visited so long in our hotel that we missed the two bigger dinner boats and settled for the third, smaller one that hadn't departed yet. We had fun chatting with the relatives and taking in the entertainment on board. Singers sang American pop tunes with thick Vietnamese accents and a fire dancer in a sparkly bikini twirled and swallowed fire. Hung laughed and said, "typical Vietnamese".

After dinner we took our time walking back, stopping to take pictures of Uncle Ho's statue and the city hall. The streets around the Ben Thanh market were transformed into a series of open air seafood restaurants. All of them wanted us to stop in and eat, but of course we had already eaten. Groups of people were sitting on the sidewalks playing cards all along the streets.

Hey, look at us! We managed to stay awake until 10:30 tonight.

Welcome to Saigon

Thursday, Oct. 23

We feel refreshed after showers and a good night's sleep. The breakfast buffet at the Lan Lan Hotel 2 is fantastic. We're already looking forward to the next breakfast.

There was a package of bottled water and fresh fruit waiting for us at the front desk - a gift from Uncle Hong and Nga. They're on a Mekong Delta tour this week, but we'll see them on Sunday when they return.

After breakfast we talked to Trang from Children's Home Society on the phone. She told us that our Giving & Receiving (G&R) ceremony still hasn't been scheduled and it's no longer likely that it'll take place Tuesday the 28th as anticipated. Now she's guessing perhaps Friday the 31st or Monday, Nov. 3rd.

We set out on foot to explore the neighborhood. After changing money near the Ben Thanh Market, we wandered until we found a park. A cyclo driver tried to sell us a tour, but we wanted to walk after the long day of sitting in airplanes. He warned us about druggies in the park who try to steal from tourists. We didn't meet any druggies, but some students approached and asked if we speak German. They're studying German and have an assignment to interview German tourists. I said I'm not German, but I speak German, which was good enough for them. So we had a little conversation in German about our trip to Vietnam, how long we're here, what places we plan to visit, what we like about VN, etc. Mom will love this story! I guess I must look like a German tourist! We took a picture of the students.

After traversing the park, we sat down to consult our guidebook and the cyclo driver approached us again. This time we took him up on his offer of a little tour. What a fun introduction to the city. We were in the midst of the flowing, weaving, swirling traffic, sitting back and taking it all in. The driver gave me a map so I could follow along our route. This helped me start to feel familiar with the layout of the center of town.

In the afternoon we rested, then wandered around on foot some more and bought a few souvenirs. In the evening we went to bed early- the jet lag is definitely still with us.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Korean Air

Here we go! We're on our way! We left home early Tuesday morning and arrived in Saigon late on Wednesday night -checked into the hotel around midnight. We flew one hour to Chicago, 13 hrs to Seoul, and 5 hrs to Saigon. Long, long, long! There's no other word for it. But Korean Air made the long trip as comfortable as possible. The seats were the roomiest coach seats we've ever had. Each seat had its own TV screen with multimedia library of movies, TV programs, maps, & music. I watched four movies on the flight to Korea, two Korean films and two American ones. At mealtime the choice was "beef or Korean food." Hung and I both opted to try Korean food. When in Rome..., right? It was delicious. It came with a printed instruction card including photos explaining how to combine the various elements of the dish. Even the name of it was fun - "bibimbap."

At Incheon airport in Korea we found a cultural activity area where foreigners are invited to try traditional Korean crafts. Hung & I did a decoupage type paper craft where we pasted mulberry paper onto a decorative tray using rice glue. It was a nice, relaxing diversion.

There are quite a few families with young children travelling on Korean Air. In Seoul there's a playground next to the gate where our flight left. I imagine we'll spend time there with Alex on the way home.