Monday, October 29, 2007

We are in Taiwan!

…and now the real adventure begins!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

One Night in Bangkok

…is one night too many. In our case, it turned out to be one night and much of the following day as our transit stop turned into a bit more thanks to a mix-up in our flights. We tried to make the best of it as we always do by taking a mini-tour of the city. We carefully arranged our plan with the help of the hotel concierge and grabbed a taxi from our hotel. Mr. Tony Vee seemed quite the cheerful taxi driver at first, helpfully telling us about the city as he drove us towards town. We quickly understood that he wanted us to hire him for the day. Although the first price he offered for this service was outrageous, he did agree to a very reasonable price, so we took him up on the offer and had time for a visit to Bangkok’s two most famous temples. The temples in Bangkok are far more ornate and by far more modern than those we had seen in Vietnam and Cambodia. They are brightly colored and glittering with jewels and full of some of the most incredible Buddha’s that exist. At the Grand Palace, which contains the King’s residence, we saw the beautiful Emerald Buddha (unfortunately, no photos allowed) and at Wat Po we saw the impressive and gigantic Reclining Buddha. I believe one of this Buddha’s toes is larger than my head! We had lunch at a seafood restaurant that is a bit touristy, but we’ve wanted to try it since my Mom ate there when she was in Bangkok years ago. You shop for your food (yes, with a grocery cart and everything) first, then they prepare it for you any way you like. Despite the neon glitz and tourist price tag, it was very tasty.

Our biggest adventure in Bangkok was dealing with the people. Everywhere we went people tried to take advantage of us. From the guy who asked to see our receipt when we exited the temple – he was dressed in something official looking and made an official looking mark on the receipt before handing it back to us, then proceeded to try to convince us to hire his TukTuk for the day – to our taxi driver (you knew I would get back to him). Our dear taxi driver tried to tell us the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed and drove us to a restaurant of his choosing instead. Thanks to hubby’s knowledge of the area and his firm insistence, we eventually made it to the restaurant we originally requested. Our driver tried to renegotiate the rate on the way (probably since he had originally calculated a nice restaurant kick-back), but we would have none of it and paid him the agreed upon fee when we returned to our hotel. Sadly, that wasn’t the end of our interactions with this guy as he tried to tell the hotel staff that we didn’t pay him. The hotel staff quickly understood the situation and apologized to us for the entire experience. By then it was obvious why Bangkok has been dubbed his “least favorite city in the world”.

In the Footsteps of Kings

We were suitably impressed the moment we stepped off the plane in Cambodia. The Siem Reap airport is one of the most beautiful airports we’ve seen in the world and although it is only five years old, the government is building a new one. This one is too small and too close to the archaeological wonders of this place (jet traffic may damage the ruins). Of course, this city of one million people gets THREE million visitors a year and each one is charged $50 to enter the country and $40 to leave, so funding the new airport construction should be no problem.

Today we walked in the footsteps of Kings. The Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered to be among the great wonders of the world, on the same scale with the pyramids of Egypt. Regardless of your religion it is difficult not to feel moved by the sheer scale of the temples of Angkor. An incredible amount of detail has been preserved in the sandstone carvings over the centuries so the temples can be quite moving on both a grand and small scale.

There are hundreds of temples within the park and hundreds more not yet open to the public (they must be cleared of land mines first). No one knows how many temples are yet to be discovered deep within the Cambodian jungles. We visited just a few during our stay and fell in love with each one. Each of them, even those built by the same king and bearing the same style of carvings, are unique. The setting of each temple adds to the magic. Some are still set deep within the jungle, while others have been cleared to be experienced much as they may have looked while the Kings and their courts enjoyed them.

We woke up at 4:30 am local time for one of the world's great experiences: sunrise over Angkor Wat. We arrived much earlier than most of the crowds and enjoyed a double dose of beauty as we watched the full moon set just before the sun rose. Angkor Wat is massive and stunning in any light, but at sunrise, there is nothing like it in the world. We have never seen the pyramids, but can tell you that the temples of Angkor are something you should see in your lifetime if you can.

(Yes, that is the temple from Tomb Raider, one of Angelina Jolie's flicks.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ancient Hoi An

It is difficult to choose a favorite location so far, but Hoi An is in contention. Our resort lies on the banks of a small, picturesque river. Last night we sipped a pineapple juice and watched a wooden boat placing paper lanterns filled with candles on the river after sunset. Waking up in Hoi An and looking out across the water is very peaceful.

Our time in Hoi An was filled with relaxing, riding and cooking. Our ride to Marble Mountain and back was much wetter than we’d planned, but it was fun riding in the rain. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been much fun to ride for 5 days in the rain, but riding for a half day in the rain was fun. In the evening, we walked through the perfumed streets of Hoi An (incense is burning throughout) and learned to make Vietnamese spring rolls and fish wrapped in a banana leaf from the local "celebrity chef”. We met some other travelers and had a good time. The next morning we took the wettest boat ride of our lives.

Rain drenched Hoi An during our stay and it couldn’t have been more lovely. It lies just south of Danang, the largest US military base during the "American War" (as the Vietnamese refer to the conflict). Like Hue and Halong Bay, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site (I think I forgot to mention this about Hue in my previous post on Hue!). It is the kind of place where you welcome the rain – the kind of place where the sound of the rain and the smell of the air make it even more magical.

High on the Hai Van Pass

“Active” pretty much sums up our day yesterday. We rode our bicycles much of the way from Hue to Hoi An. We even conquered the Hai Van Pass (aka Cloudy Summit). Although reaching the summit was a sweet reward (we were “awarded” bracelets for our achievement by our driver), the views on the way up and throughout the day were the real reward.

Just outside of Hue where we began our ride, we pedaled through ornate cemeteries built in swampy fields where water buffalo grazed. That was one of the most beautiful parts of the trip, but we were just beginning the day’s ride and didn’t take nearly enough photos. We passed through scenic villages and saw lots of smiling faces. We even became the first bike tour to cross a newly constructed (and not yet completed!) bridge. (The alternative would have been to take a “ferry”. Upon seeing the “ferry”, we decided that the not-yet-complete bridge was the far more preferable alternative.)

The Hai Van Pass was the crown jewel of the day in both effort expended and scenic beauty. The approach to the pass afforded us our first glimpses of the South China Sea and the lush mountains surrounding it. The ride up is full of steep, sharp switchbacks that were, in some cases, challenging on a bike so it is easy to understand why a tunnel was built to accommodate most trucks and autos. The six-mile ride to the summit included a fifteen hundred foot elevation gain along with the switchbacks and the day was warm and humid - in other words, no easy ride! Yet we were still in awe of the natural beauty of the place as we pushed up the mountain. This is one place where the pictures don't come close to conveying the overwhelming beauty of the area.

Hue Wonderful

A French Colonial hotel that felt like a palace welcomed us to Hue. Built in 1901, it is a truly beautiful hotel from a romantic era with a glittering lobby, huge rooms and service to match. Our room looked out over the Perfume River, so named because the headwaters of the river, far up in the mountains, grew fragrant from the abundance of fruit that would fall into its waters.

We pedaled along the lush country roads outside of Hue and along the banks of the Perfume River visiting temples, pagodas and people along the way. The biking ranged from peaceful to hair-raising and I can think of no better way to experience Vietnam. We visited many of the most important historical sites in and around Hue and found ourselves the subject of a surprising number of video cameras pointed out the windows of passing tourist buses. Why they found American tourists on bicycles to be so interesting we're not sure but we’re guessing it’s because we looked like we were having fun.

Riding a bicycle on the streets of Hue during rush hour is one of the most thrilling things I've ever done. Scooters, bikes and vehicles share the same roadway and there are a lot of all of them. As long as everyone is headed in the same direction everything is easy. The traffic, as they say, flows like water. If you watch it you will see that it’s true. You simply overtake on the left and avoid any sudden moves. As in snow skiing, you can’t worry about what’s happening behind you. You simply watch what’s happening in front of you. When you need to make a left turn or navigate an intersection, things can get a bit dicey but it somehow all works out. Usually.

As daylight began to fade and evening commuter traffic reached its height, we tucked in behind our support van so he could lead us back to our hotel via the slightly less congested back streets. It started to rain and darkness was upon us but we were having fun zipping past slower bikes and watching the rear passenger on every motorbike that passed nearly get whiplash as they turned to have a look at us. All was going well until I missed a quick right turn and our guide and I rode right by hubby and the van. I quickly corrected course and headed back down the small street to catch up with hubby and the van. As I rushed to catch up, focusing on the van's taillights in the dark, our guide didn’t realize I had made the correction, lost sight of me and went out looking for me. I’m sure the next few minutes on the dark, rainy back streets of Hue were far more frightening for our guide than for us – after all, I had my husband and the van with me. In the end the guide found us and we had a ride we will never forget.

Hanoi to Halong

Halong Bay is three hours by car and worlds away from Hanoi. We boarded a boat with 2 other couples and an equal number of crew, received a refreshing cool washcloth and fresh squeezed tangerine juice and set sail (ok, we motored) out into Halong Bay. We raced around the roof deck snapping photos of a few of the 1669 islands that lie within the 1553 square kilometers of Halong Bay for a while, then sat down for a lunchtime feast of fresh seafood. The afternoon brought more relaxing and a kayak tour of one of the many hidden bays within the bay - this one accessible via a low arch. Once inside, the only sounds were of our lone kayak gliding through the water, and a huge horn bill of some kind that was too big for the branches he was hopping around on. We had time for a brief dip in the bay before dinner.

Any concerns over spending the night on a junk were completely unfounded - our room on the boat was more luxurious than our hotel in Hanoi. As our guest blogger pointed out, the place was full of tourist boats but it was still beautiful and we hope that as a World Heritage Site it will stay beautiful. There is a delicate balance between serving the needs of preservation while allowing people to enjoy that which is being preserved and clearly, they're still figuring it out.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ha Long Bay is kinda like Yosemite...

Like Yosemite, the scenery is stunning, but the pictures come out nicer than being there in person. Let me explain. Many have probably seen the bay from pictures and movies (check out episode 4 of Amazing Race sponsored by Travelocity.)

Also like Yosemite, tourist come from all over the world to visit -- Ha Long has already seen over 3M visitors this year and November starts the high season again. That means a lot of tour buses, day trip boats (almost 400), and 70 overnight boats all going to largely the same fishing villages, oyster farms, and cave formations.

I envisioned the overnight trip by kayak and junk would allow us to get away -- think backpacking in the high Sierras versus car camping in Yosemite Valley during high season. However, there's no getting away from the 25 other overnight boats though since we all anchor in the same area -- for protection and regulation. The pictures come out nice enough since you can frame your photos to avoid the masses.

Still it is beautiful, but to appreciate the breathtaking natural beauty you have to come with expectations in order... just like Yosemite valley in Summer with hordes of tourists.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


We were not kidnapped by pirates in Halong Bay! I am beginning to wonder if the Island Boy blog has been censored in Vietnam – I haven’t been able to access it for days. Other than that, we have been truly enjoying our time in Vietnam.

The people of Vietnam are warm and very friendly. Everywhere we went, particularly while we were on the bikes, people would yell out, “hello!” as we passed. The children loved to do this and would giggle when we responded. They would see us coming far down the road and would rush out to the road to smile at us. The brave ones would reach out for a high-five as we passed.

It is a country that is learning to treat tourists very well, but it is occasionally obvious that they are still learning. Although you are constantly offered a refreshing washcloth and the hotel staff wouldn’t dream of allowing you to wheel your own luggage, as we got out of our van in our bike gear in the pouring rain, they were so entranced with the strange clothing and gear that they forgot to offer us the umbrella that they were holding. They quickly remembered themselves when I glanced at the umbrella so it was actually quite charming. The best example of the “still learning” process is the fact that the national airline, Vietnam Airlines, scheduled our flight from Danang to Saigon to be four hours late a day in advance. Once we boarded the 777 (a HUGE plane which we have previously been on primarily for very long haul flights), we realized they must have preferred to save fuel by running one big plane on the route rather than several smaller flights. Whatever. Not exactly tourist friendly and not very business friendly either! Luckily, we got a good laugh out of that too although we were sad to miss spending the afternoon in Saigon.

We’ve got some catching up to do on our travels thus far. In the meantime, here are a few photos.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Waiting for our boat

We are waiting at our hotel in Hoi An for our boat ride. We are
heading off to Saigon, er, Ho Chi Minh City. Of course the once a day
Danang-HCM flight has been delayed from 1:30 to 5:30. Strangely they
actually rescheduled it yesterday.

Anyway, we're hoping to get a nice meal in Saigon instead of the
standard tourist "set menu" we have been getting at most stops.

And if it looks like rain and you suspect that we had a wet day on the
bike yesterday you might be right.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Xin Chao (Hello!) Hanoi

Traffic is crazy in Hanoi. Being from Los Angeles, I feel qualified to make that judgment. To give you some idea, there are approximately five million people in Hanoi and approximately four million motorcycles, primarily of the scooter variety. Child "seats" consist of arms or laps. Helmets are rarely used.
We began the day by wandering the streets looking for street food. We bought a papaya from a lady on a bicycle and took it back to our room to crack it open. We were surprised to find there were no seeds inside! It was a good day for food with lunch at a restaurant that has been family-owned for five generations and serves only one dish: a delicious fried fish with noodles and fresh herbs. Dinner was at one of the finer contemporary Vietnamese restaurants in town where the biggest surprise was green bananas in our food! They were raw and sliced thinly with the peel on, believe it or not, and were delicious.

The shopping streets here are laid out by category. The majority of the shoe vendors, for example, can be found along one street and that street is referred to as Shoe Street. There is also a luggage street, a wedding street, a toy get the picture. While doing our shopping reconnaisance yesterday, we noticed some adorable baby shoes. We went back to consider purchasing them today and guess what? They're made in China! It makes perfect sense that all of the vendors purchase their goods from the same vendors, but we couldn't help but be disappointed. We're going to have to keep shopping in order to come up with a suitable souvenir for our Island Boy.

During our shopping mission we also learned just how much the people here love flowers. There are flower stalls, shops, and street vendors everywhere full of unique and beautiful bouquets, many more here than in other countries we've visited.

We did a few more touristy things today than typical for us, but it was a very nice introduction to Vietnam and Hanoi. I was relieved to learn that Ho Chi Minh's body is in Russia at the moment for it's annual maintenance so we missed that typical tourist highlight of Hanoi. The city is full of beautiful parks and museums and we saw just a few. We even went to see Hanoi's unique water puppet theater.
Perhaps one of the most important things we learned today about Hanoi is that it has many foot massage places. Hallelujah! Since we are so committed to sampling local culture wherever we go, we felt obligated to go back for another taste of this local specialty yesterday. We are now getting serious about our research so went to a new purveyor. Although double the price, for $15, we received an even more thorough "foot" massage, this one involving the entire leg, the entire arm, the entire back and a very thorough head, neck and facial massage. I'm trying to figure out how to export these massages at these prices to the US, or at least to our house.

Today we travel to Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where we will kayak and spend the night on a junk. We're not sure what it will be like, but that's what adventure is all about!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good Morning, Vietnam!

We left Los Angeles in the wee hours of Wednesday morning on essentially the same flight that inaugurated our honeymoon five years ago, non-stop to Taiwan. Both then and now, that was only the beginning of our journey. We arrived in Hanoi yesterday morning, after nearly a day of traveling.

I'm not sure what I was expecting to find in Vietnam, but the surprises started right away. I expected Hanoi to be a major city and it is, but I guess I expected all of the modernization that goes with it. The airport is newly built - less than 2 years old - and about 45 minutes outside of the city center. There are people farming the fields out there and I don't mean with their fancy combines. In most cases they don't even have an ox. These people are toiling by hand and hoe to feed their families, and, if they are lucky, to have enough of the harvest left over to save for the future.

The homes here are fascinating and range from shacks to tall, skinny towers. Land here, we're told, is some of the most expensive in the world. Many generations share a single house, so, if the family can afford it, each of the families within the family will build a floor for themselves. I'm not sure what to think about baby-proofing these!

We had the good fortune to lunch in one of these houses. There is an actual restaurant, with an actual menu and everything situated within what is basically a family home. The mother and daughter serve the food and the father prepares it. We saw at least one other woman in the home with her small baby. We could have eaten in one of the fancy Westernized restaurants, sure! But why would we? We can do that at home. The daughter, incidentally, was thrilled to hear that we were from Los Angeles. She seemed to think it somehow brought her closer to the celebrities that she is so fascinated with. Her favorites? You guessed it: Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. We're so proud.

We wandered the streets around our hotel scoping out local culture and shopping opportunities, then returned to our hotel for one of the most amazing foot massages ever. Ok, I should admit that I'm no connoisseur of foot massages (previous experience has been mostly limited to those accompanying a pedicure), however it seems reasonable to say that $7 for a 60 minute foot massage that included a neck and back rub was well, WOW. We can get roughly eleven hours of massages here for the price of one 50 minute massage in LA. I'm not sure we'll have time for anything else! ;-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mysteries of Taiwan Adoption Revealed

Throughout the adoption process, there have been many mysteries. (e.g. What is the travel packet? Why does it take so long for the dossier to get logged into the court?, etc.) As we've gone through the process, we've tried to share any revelations we've experienced by writing about them here. Although we've now put many of the adoption milestones behind us, many mysteries remain. We're planning to do what we can to uncover some of the secrets during our time in Taiwan.

We have lots of questions of our own for the orphanage staff, but thought we would throw it out there to our readers to contribute questions too. Wondering what really happens to those care packages for example? If you have any burning questions you would like us to ask the staff at SLC while we are there, please post them here and we will do our best to get the answers during our visit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

While you wait...

For me, the wait after referral was much harder than the wait for our referral. Before we received our referral, it was easier to go about our lives believing that we would find our little boy when the time was right. Once we knew he was waiting for us and getting older it got very frustrating.

No matter where you are in the process, it can feel endless, so here are a few things to do while you wait (and don't ask how many of these I've done! ;-). Vote for your favorites and chime in with your own ideas:

1) Make a list of things to do while you wait. :-)
2) Spring Cleaning - no matter what time of year it is.
3) Take your spouse on a date - or a lot of them.
4) Workout. Whenever you want.
5) Practice carrying around a 10-pound bag of flour in a baby carrier (thanks, Judy!) or, if that's too girlie for you manly men, get yourself a medicine ball.
6) Outfit the nursery or at least research how you should outfit the nursery.
7) Read books on parenting.
8) Read a trashy novel or a classic literary work.
9) Figure out what all of those baby gadgets are for.
10) Stay out late. Sleep in.
11) Host a dinner party.
12) Make a plan for sharing and organizing all those pictures you know you will be taking.
13) Learn how to change a diaper.
14) Work late - because you can.
15) Write your life story.
16) Retail Therapy.
17) Take the kind of trip you can only take as a couple.
18) Think about the kind of parent you want to be.
19) Vent (early and often).
20) Try a new hobby like this or this or this.
21) Spend time with your dog or your cat or your iguana.
22) Find lots of things to laugh about. (Your comments on my names post and on my good things we're missing out on post gave me a good laugh - thank you!)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sheer Madness

Hubby's only been off crutches for a little over a month. Since then, while hubby has been working his way back to 100%, the guest room has been dismantled and a nursery has sprung up in its place. Many things large and small have been sold or given away. New window coverings, rugs, a front door and a video camera have been purchased. Pediatricians have been interviewed. Landscapers and baby-proofers have been consulted. Flights, hotels and tours have been booked. The car seat has been installed (very strange driving around with that in the car). Even the termite inspector has been in and given us the all-clear. And these are just a few highlights!

It seems impossible that we've accomplished so much in such a short stretch of time and still found a few precious moments here and there to enjoy time with each other and with friends and family. We hope that never changes.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Suitcase Full of Unknowns

How do you pack a suitcase for a child you've never met? As first time parents, I'm not 100% sure we'd know what to pack for a trip even if he were already here with us but that's a whole different story.

As it is, we're not exactly sure what size he is, nor do we know what he likes or doesn't like. Since he's usually smiling in his pictures, we're hoping he likes most everything, but we're a little nervous to find out. Will he be teething? Will he be hungry? Will he be too cold or too warm? Is he accustomed to music or silence when he sleeps? Is it dark when he sleeps? What if we forget something? Is he a picky eater? What does he like to play with? Will the clothes that we're bringing fit him? We figure a bit too big is better than a bit too small and we're making the best guesses we can on everything else.

After all, if all else fails we have our trusty credit cards. If they are needed it won't be the first time that shopping saves the day (nor the last)!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


A baby-proofing expert came to our home today to strike fear into our hearts. Apparently, we are not adding a baby to our family, but rather a tiny tyrant bent on destroying everything within his reach.

The expert walked with us from room to room pointing out how our baby will insist on pulling our solid rosewood elephant from Kenya down on top of his head, tear books from the shelves and toss them at something delicate, climb aboard any piece of furniture within reach of something that he can crack his skull on, eat potting soil and leaves from our houseplants and generally locate any item we hold most dear and chew it to pieces (afterwards choking on the pieces).

Much of the expert's advice was to "put it up". Although that seems like wise advice, I'm not sure where we can put all of these things "up". Are we to build perimeter shelving around the entire house and elevate every item we own?

I am not questioning our expert's expertness. He is the guy that does all of the celebrity homes, he tells me. I am simply saying there is a line to be drawn between practical and necessary and I believe his line may be a bit extreme or at least unrealistic. Maybe celebrity homes do have entire wings in which to "put things up" but we don't so we are somehow trying to reach a happy medium to make our home both safe AND livable. The impossible dream? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pediatrician - Can You Imagine?!?

We've been interviewing pediatricians which has been an interesting process. How many of you have ever interviewed a dentist or your own physician before seeing him or her for an exam for the first time?

This evening we had one such pediatrician interview appointment. When I made the appointment I explained, as I always do, that we are adopting an infant from Taiwan and that he will be coming home within a few weeks. The receptionist scheduled the appointment and gave no indication that we should expect anything out of the ordinary. We showed up promptly and found a room full of people, including the pediatrician. He introduced himself and said, "We're just getting started." Huh??

That's right folks, we were to be participants in a group interview of the pediatrician!!! How crass is that?? Here we sat with two other couples (both of whom were very pregnant) and the pediatrician went around the room asking what we all did for a living and then threw the floor open for general questions. Which questions did I feel comfortable asking in front of other (non-adopting) people? None!

While the preggies weren't shy about asking a few questions about vaccinations and the like, we were a little perplexed about how to ask the questions most relevant to international adoption in that setting. We did go ahead and throw a few questions out there (e.g. Do you insist on repeating vaccinations that have already been given in Taiwan?), but we left with more questions than answers.

The pediatrician summed up the little soirée by telling the preggies what an exciting time they were embarking on. HELLLLOOOOO???!! What about us? Are we not embarking on an exciting time?

Thanks for the informative interview, doc. We'll be moving on to the next pediatrician interview and hoping that the next doctor finds our family important enough to merit both recognition and a few minutes of private time.

Oh, and if anyone would like the pediatrician's name, I'm more than happy to share. I'm sure he is competent and pleasant enough as long as you fall within his limited parameters of typical and don't require any individual attention of any kind.

A Glimpse of the Future

With two big dogs in our family until recently it's never been easy for us to just jump in the car and go when we wanted to get away. We always had to pack for four even for a little overnight visit to see family or, if the dogs weren't going with us, we had to make arrangements for sitters, pack an overnight bag for the dogs at the sitters and find time to drop off and pick up our girls at the sitters. We had to pack extra food, bags (the doggie equivalent of diapers), leashes, bowls, medicines and more. When we traveled with the dogs, we had to find hotels that would permit dogs - particularly large dogs. For some reason hotel managers seem to be under the misguided impression that dogs over 35 pounds are somehow more of a menace to hotel rooms or guests than the little yappers (no offense, small dog lovers) they more frequently allow.

Yet with all of the experience we've had caring for and traveling with living beings that relied solely on us, preparing for this trip is a little different. We're getting a taste of the future with shades of the past. We still need to make all the special pre-travel packing arrangements and even hotel arrangements (request a crib), but for the first time, we not only need to pack for another living being, we also need to consider how to entertain someone other than ourselves on a trans-Pacific flight (rather than just a long car ride). We have to think about checking virtually all of our luggage instead of figuring out how we can fit everything into carry ons since we'll already have our hands full (literally and figuratively) and we have to worry about how to get home from the airport (taxis normally don't have infant seats). Yes, things are going to be different and we can't wait!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Fingerprint Finale (we hope!)

The USCIS (Citizenship & Immigration Services) office in LA recently moved, so NOTHING was processed for at least a week. Not only that, but they changed their phone numbers as well and did not leave forwarding information other than "do not leave a message at this number". With travel dates fast approaching, along with the expiration of our current prints, I frantically dialed every number I could think of and scampered through voice menu trees trying to get our prints lined up.

I finally did reach a human, but that was not the end of the frustration. I tried to describe what I needed to one government employee, stating form numbers and detailed descriptions, but he had no idea what I was talking about and had never heard of the forms which I referenced. Fortunately, through persistence and a fair number of internal expletives, I was able to locate a human that cared enough to locate our paperwork in the large stack that had accumulated and process our fingerprint renewal paperwork very quickly. We were immediately scheduled to redo our prints this week. Not only that, but when we went to have them redone, we were whisked past the room FULL of people waiting right to the the front of the line. Whew!

Of course it wasn't quite that easy. The next hurdle for us was determining whether the prints needed to be filed as I-600 or I-600A. Yikes!! We had no idea. They had no idea. We sat there at the front of the line and under the "No cell phones, please!" sign and called the agency (after getting the ok to make the call from the government employee). Our primary contact at the agency wasn't in and the other person said that this question had never come up before (lucky us!) and didn't know, but thought we should file under I-600A. We told the government employee I-600A and crossed our fingers. We guessed right! Our agency coordinator called us back about an hour later just to make sure. Whew again!!

Had we not called, had we not been so persistent, who knows whether we would have received our redo notice in time to travel and with expired prints, who knows what trouble we might experience in Taiwan. I guess it would have been even more exciting to have that hanging over our heads a little longer, but really, we've got enough excitement, stress, and last minute activity happening without that little extra thank you very much.

p.s. I have provided our agency with the new phone number just in case anyone else needs it. :-)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Final Schminal and Other Words of Comfort

We learned a few days ago that our pick up date has been confirmed which is good because I hadn't realized it was tentative. I hesitated to inquire about the status of our Final Decree, but couldn't help myself. It turns out no one cares. Still!! After being trained for months to believe that the Final Decree was - well, FINAL, I am a bit perplexed by this news, but pleased that I need worry no more about that particular item. Apparently it is simply procedural and fairly automatic so we may not learn the date of the Final Decree until we are actually in Taiwan. Huh.

I received some other nuggets of information that I found comforting. For example, we may receive a little progress report on our little guy when we go to pick him up. Since updates on the first eight months of his life have been scanty at best, we were thrilled to learn that we might indeed end up with more information and even more photos of his early days. Of course, nothing can be promised, but the possibility of these gifts is enough to hope for.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nursery Preparations

There is not an inch of our home that hasn't been affected by baby preparations and we haven't even begun any baby-proofing efforts. For starters, we've replaced nearly every rug or carpet in the house and rearranged nearly all of the furniture. The guest room has been dismantled and replaced with a nursery that will also function as a guest room in a pinch (Fear not, future guests! We will still offer high threadcount sheets!). Hubby will now be sharing an office with me. (Fortunately, we like each other so this should not be a problem.) We've cleared out clothing, kitchen items, books, electronics and gobs of other items that we will no longer have space for. We are sad to see some of it go, but go it must and we're happy to be replacing it with items that represent a future full of hope.

If only you could have seen the "nursery" on the day we received the news of our First Decree (aka FDN)! The guest bed was piled high with baby gifts. The bookshelf was full, yet held not a single book appropriate for children under high school age. Within 12 hours, the guest room was emptied save for a few key items. Within 48 hours, most of the furniture in the house had been moved and a garage sale had been held. It has now been 2 weeks and we've had painters, carpet installers, door installers and blind installers climbing all over our house nearly every day since FDN. Landscapers are yet to arrive, but will need to be called in. Hubby and I have spent much of our precious time moving and assembling furniture. (Note: Those furniture glider thingy's really work!!)

Most importantly, the nursery is nearing completion. Island Boy's clothes have been washed (yet again) and laid neatly into the drawers of his new dresser. Diaper and formula research is still underway, but nearing conclusion. Preschool and pediatrician research has been initiated. It's all coming together.

The inventory of children's books in the nursery at this point is none too impressive, but it's a start!