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.