The Shoes Fit

When we created this blog to chronicle our journey, we chose the banner image to be a photo of Nikole and me wearing Chucks alongside an empty pair of kids’ Chucks.

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In another photo that didn’t quite make the cut, we had a sign that said “Whichever shoe fits…”. Then, fast forward a little bit into the future, and those shoes actually do fit Owen! We recently did a quick family photo shoot at the same location where the empty Chucks were photographed, except this time Owen got to wear those shoes.

Owen in Chucks

He wears these shoes quite often these days, and they are just perfect. Maybe one day we will get a picture with Mama, Baba, and Owen all wearing our Chucks at the same time…

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The Journey Home Begins

The first leg of our journey home is complete and it only took a shuttle bus, a big train, two subway trains, and another shuttle bus.

This morning, after breakfast, we checked out of the Garden Hotel and met up with Aron for her to arrange our train station shuttle. We are excited when she decided to join us and send us off at the train station, rather than the hotel lobby.

We took the bus to the train station, caught a train from Guangzhou to Kowloon (in Hong Kong, on the mainland), then took two MTR subway trains to a station near the hotel.

Navigating the train station in Kowloon

Navigating the train station in Kowloon

After an MTR train, and then a transfer to another MTR train, we arrived at the Tung Chung station and waited for the SkyCity Marriott shuttle.

We started this journey at about 9:15am, and when we arrived at SkyCity around 3:30, it was time for a celebratory lunch of Cup O’ Noodles!

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This new hotel is so refreshing, probably because we are looking at new walls and carpets that are quite colorful and simply….different. This will be our home for the night, and we continue the journey tomorrow with two flights.

US Consulate Day

Today was the day we finished up all of our official appointments. Now we just have to wait for Owen’s visa to get printed and picked up. We snuck a photo of the family in front of the building sign.

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While this photo may not look as crisp and clear as you may expected, you should know that we are basically outside in the outskirts of Typhoon Nida, which hit the shores of Hong Kong (a 2 hour train ride away) at 4am this morning. Owen has his hand on his head because every time a drop of water hit his head, he would touch his head and make a little sound and laugh, so this picture captures the day pretty well.

Everything in Guangzhou seemed so chill last night, like they weren’t concerned about the incoming typhoon. Back home in the States, people would be freaking out about any trace of a hurricane, so this was unexpected. However, we woke up to find that a lot of places were closed today. Plus, the Consulate was very short-staffed, so while they generally have visas delivered within 24 hours, it may take a bit longer for us to get Owen’s visa. We are hoping this isn’t a problem, since we have train tickets out of Guangzhou for Thursday morning.

Another little factoid about the typhoon. We read that a lot of flights (maybe all?) in and out of Hong Kong were cancelled today, and I’m getting the vibe that maybe by the end of tomorrow they will have the airport chaos straightened out. I’m still anticipating a little bit of extra crazy when we fly out of Hong Kong on Friday. To add to the mess, as of this morning we still didn’t have an assigned seat for Owen for the flight home. Fortunately, we were able to log into the Delta website and we were able to choose the seat. This was quite a relief, especially with the unknowns of the typhoon. I just have to sit back, though, and think about how all of this just makes our story more of an adventure. And it’s not over yet!

As an update to our medical post, prior to this consulate appointment, our guide picked up Owen’s medical report. His hemoglobin levels came out at a 9.3. This is 2.5 weeks after his last transfusion. He has had some pretty intense moments of grieving, but it also seems like he is getting a little more irritable and tired. This is normal for people with thalassemia as their hemoglobin levels drop, but we are just hoping and praying that he can hang in there for the long flights home.

An emotionally tough day, but we made it!

Yesterday, our scheduled sightseeing tour included the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, and Liwan Plaza (aka the pearl and jade market).

At least, that was the plan. What we experienced yesterday was simply more confirmation that a trip back to Owen’s orphanage may not have been a great idea. The morning was a little rough after breakfast, as Owen didn’t want anything to do with a fresh diaper after a diaper change. We got out the door, though, and he did great on the bus ride over to the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall.

When we arrived, though, we immediately went into a little tourist shop to get Owen a name chop. This page shows a decent example of a name chop. These are very popular in the tourist areas and shops in China. We got one for Stella last year, and we wanted to get one for Owen too.

This place was pretty hot. Okay, every part of Guangzhou is hot right now… miserably hot. But this was not indoors, and it was crowded, and it was really noisy. Owen had been comfortably riding along in the carrier with Nikole, but I think the combination of the heat, crowd, and noise made him finally lose it and start an intense crying fit.

He was pretty much inconsolable, and fortunately I had finished “ordering” the name chop. It became evident that our best option was to bail on this place and get a taxi back to the hotel. Owen was stressed, Mama was stressed because everyone kept staring us down, and in those high emotions, Stella got emotional as well. We had even prepared to have a fun FOR Gwinnett picture taken, and in all of the miserable heat and high emotion, we only squeezed out this one picture:

Stella, wearing her Waumba Land shirt, at the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall

Stella, wearing her Waumba Land shirt, at the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall

Once we got in the taxi, Owen settled, and once we were in the hotel room, he did okay overall. We had a few more crying fits throughout the day, which left us all thinking that we probably made the right decision about not visiting the orphanage last week. Owen has had several moments that have seemed a lot like grieving. He’ll be really sad and cry, and there’s not much we can do. Who knows what an orphanage visit might have done to him emotionally. On the day we met him, he really struggled to be with us and see his orphanage staff. Returning to the orphanage itself (and possibly seeing the nAnnie’s again) might have regressed our relationship as his new family.

Every day is a new challenge (or many!) for us as we are in new territory. As always, we appreciate prayers from our friends and family. Specifically, we are praying that Owen will develop a trust in us, and that we will learn to really meet his needs. Oh, and that upcoming plane trip… That’s gonna be an adventure for sure.

Finally, speaking of the plane trip home… You may have seen in the news that there is a typhoon hitting Hong Kong right now. In Guangzhou, we are actually expected to get a good bit of rain from it tonight. But, we head back to Hong Kong on Thursday and fly out on Friday. Let’s all pray that they can actually get most/all of the postponed flights taken care of before our flight hits the runway. We are all ready to be back home in the USA to try to return to our new normal.

Interviews

It was hard to get a good picture of the building where the Civil Affairs office was. It seemed like some random side street. But, this was a picture of the sign right outside the door, and then a picture of the main lobby.

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Interviews - Civil Affairs Lobby Desk

The day after we met Owen, we went back to that same office. {A little China adoption insight: The first 24 hours after meeting your child is called “the harmonious period”. You have temporary custody of your child to begin to get to know each other, bond, etc. and make your final decision of whether you will complete the adoption.} Tuesday, 7/26, we returned to have our photo taken for Owen’s Adoption Decree, as well as our Civil Registration Interview. Then, we went upstairs for our Notary Interview.

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After our Adoption Decree photo

Civil Registration Interview

Civil Registration Interview

Owen was really getting into his cell phone toy (the same toy that we brought for Stella to play with last year – the one that taught her the numbers 1 through 10). He also really likes puffs, and was starting to share with one of the other kids, who will live in Sweden.

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Here are the signs just outside of the notary’s office. Much like the sign in the Civil Affairs area of the building, I just think the signs are cool.

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Interviews - Notary Office sign

On Wednesday, we went to the police station to work on Owen’s passport. Our guide told us at the end of this visit that the Chinese side of things was completely done! The next series of events will be the United States side of things.

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Owen on the floor at the police station

Meet Owen

Family Day has finally happened, and we are excited to introduce you to Owen. But first, let’s set the stage. We took a train from Hong Kong and arrived in Guangzhou on Sunday afternoon. We checked into the LN Garden hotel, which seems to be a very common place for adoptive families to stay as they are finishing out their adoptions. When we got to the room, they had set up a crib. Things were starting (more like continuing) to get real!

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Owen’s crib the morning we left for the Civil Affairs office

The hotel room

The hotel room

We got the room ready and headed down to the lobby to meet Aron, our guide. This is the last picture we will have as the “Brown Family of 3”, in the hotel lobby.

The last picture of the "Brown Family of 3"

The last picture of the “Brown Family of 3”

On the way over to the Civil Affairs office, Stella was all prim and proper, ready for the big moment.

A quick sidenote that is somewhat related to this picture: On the way over to the train station in Hong Kong, we took a taxi. When we got in, she looked up at us and said “they don’t have a carseat”. On each van ride we’ve taken  since, she has been sure to buckle up!

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We arrived at the building and went up the elevator, which let out into the room. The next picture gives you an idea of what this looks like. The room is filled with different families who are meeting their children for the first time! These families (at least the twelve families on this particular day) are families from a variety of agencies and countries, but we are all there for the same purpose.

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The main room where families wait to meet their children.

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Our guide, Aron, preparing things. I thought the big sign was cool too.

In the far corner of this room, there is a play room behind a colorful curtain. The kids that are about to meet their forever families play in this room until it is their turn.

As we were waiting, Aron told us that there were three children being adopted from Maonan Social Welfare Institute (Owen’s orphanage), and they were a little late. The journey for them was five hours long. Since they were a little late, we actually got a glimpse of Owen as he walked in, which I think almost melted Nikole’s heart right there on the spot. He was super calm and chilled out.

After a short wait, it was our turn! We went toward the curtain, and the deputy director of the Maonan SWI came out with little Shun Feng (Owen’s Chinese name)!

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Stella has been so excited about this day that she has hardly been able to contain herself. She loves stuffed animals, so before we left the States, she picked out two stuffed turtles. The first thing she did was walk up to him, extending his turtle (named Spot) to him. So adorable.

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Stella showing her love with a turtle stuffed animal

All seemed so calm at the very beginning. Oh, and he was the one kid with “squeaky shoes”, which was kind of hilarious because it squeaked through the entire room. Once his orphanage director and her assistants went back into the other room, another sound filled the large waiting room, and that was Owen crying his lungs out. It was becoming clear that he was *very* attached to his orphanage workers, and he didn’t want them out of his sight. He pushed us away and screamed his discontent into our ears (and everyone else’s). We also were told that his orphanage is very small {only about 40 children} and with the exception of seeing medical staff during a transfusion, he really never had seen strangers before this day. Poor little man was overwhelmed, scared, confused, etc. Here’s a picture to commemorate the moment:

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The unhappy Owen

I went into the play room to talk with Aron and the orphanage director while Nikole kept Owen and tried to calm him down. Water did not work, neither did a sucker, his turtle, Stella’s silly faces, or simply walking around. By the time we were done, this is what I came back out to.

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The happy sleepy Owen

By the time we left the building, he seemed content enough. We went shopping for some necessities at the amazing Aeon store (kinda like Super Walmart, but instead of being one floor, it is four floors), and then returned to the hotel.

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Stella is so excited

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Our little Owen

As the day progressed we began to see glimpses of Owen beginning to trust us a little bit. He took his own shoes off–no prompting on our part–shortly after the above photo was taken, which is a huge step for many adoptive children. He has no interest in trying on the shoes we brought for him and it’s not a subject we are going to push. Instead, we continue to velcro on his squeaker sandals and laugh at the fact that everyone knows he’s coming. Another positive sign of bonding & trust came when Nikole began to step out of the hotel room to drop something off next door and he began to reach out for her, as he shed crocodile tears.

All in all, the day was a success, albeit an interesting one. We had prepared our hearts for initial rejection. And you may remember from Stella’s adoption, her orphanage helpers pointed to Nikole and said “Mama” and Stella just looked at Nikole and shook her head “no”. Owen was a little (okay, a LOT) more dramatic than that, but we like to think that this means he was really well-loved by his orphanage’s staff.

Another final thought/observation: I hinted at it before, but I wanted to reiterate how amazing Stella was when we first met Owen. As he was struggling, she was ready to help in any way. She offered him his stuffed animal, she offered him a sucker, she wanted to be near him and comfort him. It was like I could just see her growing into her “big sister” role immediately.

Again, thank you for your prayers for us as we walk through this journey. It has just started, and we are adjusting to a new normal. Well, as normal as being in a huge Chinese city in a hotel can be.

Baba’s Day 2016

Such a wonderful morning celebrating Baba! Stella shared a Disney-Pixar story book for them to read together {which began as soon as he opened it} and Owen sent an updated picture of himself (notice he is holding a photo album of us)!

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During church, Stella made a tie that described me. I love her answers, and I love that she always makes things in my favorite color!

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Also, after church we took a little road trip to South Carolina and were able to celebrate my Aunt Willodean’s birthday! And see Nana Brown, too 🙂

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Being a dad is great. To revisit some of the good memories of some time spent with Stella this year, I scrolled through my photos and found these gems.

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Daddy-daughter getaway weekend in Greenville, SC

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Mystery Reader day. I like the way Nikole described this picture: “Aw, she’s in love!”