Wednesday, May 28, 2008

To get, v.t.

To come into possession of or obtain by effort or contrivance; earn, gain, or win. --The Living Webster, 1971

I'm pretty forgiving of those people not in the adoption community who fail to use appropriate adoption language. Those who have had little or no contact with adoption cannot be expected to know the proper terms for things. When someone uses terms that are not the preferred choice, I will often reflect back the question or comment with the better term. (Can you tell I took a counseling class in grad school?) But I do have a lot of trouble with other adoptive parents who have not spent time thinking about the language they use in reference to their own children and other's children. These issues intimately affect them and all adoptive parents.

More than once in Vietnam I came across other American adoptive parents (from other agencies - don't worry friends!) who commented to me about "getting" children. For instance, "Oh, you got an older one. I wanted an older one, but my agency only had babies." (To save me time, you can insert your own commentary on agencies who only have infants here.) Or, "Did you get two, or just one?" when the speaker saw TM. These types of comments make me grind my teeth, and much to M's disappointment, I didn't feel as though it was the time to engage in discussion over language. Instead, I'm saving my comments for you, dear reader.

As you can see from the definition above, the verb "to get" is about possession or owning or winning. I just don't see how this verb has any place in relation to a human being. We don't own our children, we didn't win them in a contest, and we certainly didn't purchase them. To use this term is to demote our children to the level of a thing. To some this may seem like nitpicking. We Americans use language very casually, although lazily might be a better term. We have a wealth of vocabulary, with many words that mean basically the same thing, but with many shades of connotation. Yet we tend to pick a couple of words and use them for everything, mindless of how the connotation affects the situation to which we refer. But language does matter. It can be a powerful force in how people view themselves. Anyone who has survived junior high school no longer believes the rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Words do hurt. There are some words which are so hurtful that we don't even say them. We just refer to them by a letter and even then they have power because everyone knows what they mean.

The children of the parents I met may have been too young to understand the words of their parents, but I pray these parents think about their language sooner rather than later. Older children (and even not so old ones) listen carefully to what their parents say, whether they seem to be listening or not. And I believe the connotation of possession will not be lost on them. How much better would it be for these children to hear themselves referred to as beloved children...blessings grafted into a new family.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

We're home


We arrived home yesterday after more travel than anyone should have to do at one time. I don't do well without much sleep and by yesterday evening I was barely conscious. (I'm pretty sure that I have felt better after delivering a baby than I did at 8pm last night.) But we succeeded in keeping ourselves awake until a normal bedtime and after 11 hours of sleep life looks much better.

The plane rides were uneventful...just like you want them to be. Basically on time, all the luggage made it, and the children all slept most of the time. K probably got the most sleep as he slept 9 out of 11 hours on the trans-Pacific flight. It's much easier to sleep if you can actually lie down. (And can I just say it's cruel, just cruel, for the airlines to show advertisements of the lovely fully reclining seats available in first class to the economy class cattle at about hour 10 of the flight?)

The worst part of the trip happened about 2 hours before landing when we hit some major turbulence. It was the kind of turbulence that makes you actually locate the emergency exits like they told you to do at the beginning of the flight. And the worst part is that it was ongoing, with the plane doing that quick drop in altitude-thing that makes you think you're actually on a roller coaster. Well, with that much movement, you know what happens next. Yes, three of our six travellers needed to make use of those handy bags located in the seat pocket in front of you. And they weren't the only ones on the flight. At one point, the flight attendants were actually walking up and the down the aisles passing them out instead of coffee and tea. I'm quite sure they didn't mean it when on one of the final announcements they said they hoped we would fly with them again soon.

K is a little confused by all that has happened. He loves A, as all small children and babies do. (Who doesn't love someone who caters to their every need?) But, he has that lost, staring look again that he first had when we met him at the orphanage. I'm sure he will lose that once he begins to feel comfortable. Our first mission is to teach him to go down stairs. I worry a little that he has no depth perception. It's as if when he sees the step, he has no idea that it is not on the same level as the ground he's standing on. At the hotel, we caught him several times as he was about to walk out onto nothingness. The ability to navigate stairs is an important skill to have in this house. Luckily, there are a lot of volunteers to follow him around.

Speaking of the house, it's still not done. My fantasy of coming home and immediately moving into my new kitchen remains just that. But the good news is that I should be able to move in next weekend. In the meantime, I won't have to spend too much time in the basement as we have wonderful friends who are bringing meals this week during our adjustment to 7 children.

We feel so blessed. Blessed by our wonderful children who it is so good to have all together again, and by wonderful friends and family who have supported us through this entire process. We are so humbly grateful to God for all these blessings. We ran across a couple of people in Vietnam who understood the blessings of a large family. One was a woman from whom I bought some laquerware. She asked about our family and when I told we had 7 children, her first reaction was not, "Wow, how do you do it?" or "Better you than me!", but "You are such a lucky and happy mama." And you know, she's right.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

penultimate day in Hanoi


Too tired to do much but give a quick update. Tomorrow night (around 11:30pm), we fly out of Hanoi toward Tokyo... landing in Tokyo around 6am Saturday, and then flying out around noon on Saturday. We arrive home around 9am Saturday morning... having flown backward through time.

Visit the Wise's blog for some pictures of K and Maya playing at the Somerset Westlake pool this morning. While that was going on, B and I walked toward Hoan Kiem Lake, pausing at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and the museum of military history. Our goal was the Hoa Lo prison (the Hanoi Hilton), but our timing was bad, and it was closed when we got there. So we met up with the rest of the Currys and the Wise family for lunch... and visited Hoa Lo (with TM) after lunch.

Lunch was supposed to be at a Pho 24 restaurant just south of Hoan Kiem. But after traversing the one block where we were told we'd find Pho 24 (by more than one person!) about five times, we had to conclude that Pho 24 had vanished. And we had no plan B. We've found that our family needs to have definite plans, especially when it comes to meals, or else we end up wandering aimlessly and some of us become grumpier and grumpier as the blood sugar levels drop. We ended up at Moka Cafe, by the cathedral, and that was okay.

The Wises leave tomorrow morning, but of course we bumped into them by accident one last time at Quan An Ngon restraurant at dinner tonight.

Now we're back in the room, and we have until 4pm (our late check-out time) to get everything packed. Then, at 4pm, we leave the luggage at the Somerset front desk and try to amuse ourselves until about 8:30pm, when we need to leave for the airport.

Yesterday we visited the reconstructed historic "tube house" on Ma May street. This is a typical old long narrow Hanoi house, with shop space in the front, a courtyard, and living space on the second floor. It seems so eminently livable as a space, assuming that you are in a climate that allows year-round exposure to the outdoors. Not so good for Chicago.

Nothing more enlightening to add now. I doubt we'll get more photos posted before we leave.

K has become a regular little character. We expect that he will find great success in making his siblings crack up. He seems to enjoy an audience.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

new pictures and quick update


We've finally added some new pictures and video to our photobucket album. Use the link to the left to get there. We'd do more, but it just takes so darn long to go through the various cameras full of photos and then upload them....

Today we ate lunch in a bun cha restaurant that the Wises recommended. (We thought it was one we had visited before, but it wasn't.) This place is a typical Hanoi narrow storefront, but it goes up 4 stories, and we ate on the top level. The staircases to the upper levels are narrow and twisty and they get narrower and twistier as you go higher. The final staircase is more like a ladder. Getting to your table requires that you be fairly small and nimble, without much claustrophobia or fear of heights. E made it all the way up with K in the sling, and the rest of us were toting various parcels we'd purchased during the morning. I took K for the trip down.

The food was fabulous... grilled pork, rice noodles, broth and dipping sauce, huge plate of greens, another huge plate of spring rolls.... Fortunately, the small space and the small typical Vietnamese plastic tables and stools make it easy to grab food from across the table. But you have to watch out for getting a chopstick in the eye. There's no ordering, since they only serve one thing. You just pick whether you want Coke, water, or beer. The food arrives right away... and it is amazing to watch the various women carrying or handing enormous trays of food up and down the stairs.

Monday, May 19, 2008

We can come home anytime...


because K now has his visa to enter the US. We spent most of yesterday afternoon, well, really, all of the afternoon at the US embassy. We were just expecting to have our visa interview and then come back in a day or two to pick up the visa. But after a very cursory interview...really just enough to make sure J, K and myself were the same people on the paperwork and to sign a couple of forms...we were told we could come back in an hour to pick up the visa. (This was a completely different experience from last time. We had two interviews, the interview was slightly more interrogation-like, and we had to wait two days when the visa would probably be done. I'm really liking this pre-approval business.) Instead of going and coming again, we chose to wait in the little library in the embassy. (It has shelves and shelves of beautiful children's books which look virtually untouched. Who reads them?) Of course, in the world of bureaucracy "pick-up between 4 and 4:30" really means right before 5 when we close. After all this waiting, K and his friend Maya were completely overtired. They had a wonderful time running and chasing each other, but were staggering so badly by the end that collapse seemed imminent. (At least for K, Maya wasn't doing the drunk imitation so much.) But we have the visa and can bring K into the US, at which time he will automatically become an US citizen.

But we don't leave until Friday. We have a change fee on the airline tickets and I know from experience finding 6 free seats at short notice would be very difficult. As I still have large amounts of shopping to do, we'll just stick around until Friday. It is nice to have all of the official-stuff done.

We have been quite the slackers when it comes to adding pictures and videos to photobucket. So head over to the Wise's blog and see the cute video of Maya giving K a drink of water.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rain in Hanoi


It's 10:00pm and we're pinned down in the hotel by a monumental downpour that began around 4:30pm. We had just returned from a day in Lenin Park (and some necessary grocery re-stocking) and were about to head to the pool, when the gathering clouds began to spit lightning and spout rain (as, I think, Lear says). So I took my swimming suit back off, and we entertained ourselves in the room. TM left his suit on for another hour, hoping the rain would let up. It didn't; in fact the rain grew heavier and heavier... and we ended up having pancakes in the room for dinner.

We had pancakes because M had found a box of pancake mix at the Citimart while we were shopping and she prevailed on us to buy it for breakfasts this week. At first I wasn't going to spend the money... but it's a good thing we did, since it made for an easy dinner, along with the rest of the pineapple chips, some leftover noodles, the last of the milk (for TM), a can of orange soda (for M and B), and two cans of Bia Ha Noi (one for me and one for E). K had a delightful meal of rice cereal, prune juice, mashed edamame, and some leftover noodles and cooked carrots. He topped it off with a half-bottle of formula.

As I look out the hotel hall windows onto Thuy Khue, I see rivers of water pouring through the streets, lashing sheets of rain, flapping awnings on the fronts of stalls and buildings, and flashes of lightning illuminate the skeleton of the massive partially constructed hotel complex just southeast of the hotel. Traffic is a bit lighter on a rainy Sunday evening, but still it flows. Motorbikes send up roostertails of water. Cars cut bow waves that threaten to engulf the passing motorbikes. Bicycles ridden by hardy souls holding umbrellas somehow manage to weave through pedal-deep pools. I'm tempted to put my swimming suit back on and wade out into the maelstrom, just to pit my strength against the storm.

(Actually, given the leaks in the Somerset Westlake edifice, we may yet end up swimming. As I was in the hall, I could hear splashing water, and I followed the sound to a roof door on the seventh floor, through which water is streaming. Some of the influx of rain is running down the stairs, while some of the water is coming through the floor to the hall below. Here on the fourth floor, we're probably safe... but we may find the whole complex floating out on West Lake by morning.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

motion and stillness


During our trip, I've re-read Mark Helprin's book Winter's Tale. (I highly recommend it... worth reading and re-reading... in fact, it demands re-reading.) I won't try to explain the book here, but it is a sort of mystical hymn to New York City, not the prosaic everyday New York, but New York as a sort of platonic form of the ideal just city. Helprin's novel is an attempt to describe a universal economy of the spirit, in which every human action and life is part of an immensely greater whole, which, seen from afar and outside of time, enacts perfect justice. Helprin uses New York, a vast and chaotic city, as a symbol of all human suffering and exaltation. What we take to be individual, unconnected acts, occurring without apparent meaning or logical consequence, are, in fact, all intertwined in a single and perfect whole. The hard part is finding the perspective from which to see that nothing is lost, that all is balanced, and that the universe is just.

I've been feeling odd reverberations of Helprin's theme here in Hanoi. Not as vast as New York, Hanoi is certainly a cauldron of chaos, but chaos of the most orderly sort. It is hard to describe the ways in which Hanoi seems to embody both silent stillness and frantic motion simultaneously. -- The traffic is the most obvious example. The traffic flows like water, turbulent at times, but unceasing. Every possible opening for forward movement is exploited, but with a a far greater forgiveness than in the US. Here, I see no road rage, no anger that someone else has moved ahead of one. The endlessly honking horns are not mechanical curses thrown at other drivers; rather, they are like the sonic probing and calling of dolphins or bats (as Matt Wise observed). Call and response with other drivers... "I am here"... "You are there".... The goal is flow, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but always without stopping. Cars, small trucks, bicycles, motorbikes, odd vehicles cobbled together from others, all move in and out, around and across, using every inch of road and filling every gap that opens briefly.

As I step out into Hanoi, as into a rushing river, I feel the need to move and keep moving. I feel as if I could walk forever, just moving through the streets, no destination other than joining the flow. And there is a sense that I must move, that a trip down the street to pick up fruit might end up sweeping me along for miles.

At the same time that continuous motion seems to reign, there are also quiet pools of stillness everywhere. Walk even one hundred feet into one of the labyrinthine alleys that branch off from the streets, and the sounds of the horns and motorbikes and people recede into the far distance, leaving only a single human voice from high up in a window or the singing of caged birds from behind a wall. Time itself seems to mingle past and present in the smell of woodsmoke and gasoline. Even at the edges of the busiest streets are slowly circling eddies... cafes, bia hoi (keg beer) joints, food shops of every kind... where human motion temporarily ceases. There one sits, safely out of the flow, attempting to see the patterns and meanings beneath the chaotic rush.

I believe (as Helprin asserts in his novel) that nothing is lost, that the dead return to life, and that heavenly grace weaves every breath and gesture and and word into a great and final moment of justice, a vast city of light in which all is redeemed. Thus this trip halfway around the world to be united with a child we decided to love before we knew. It is no more nor less miraculous than every other action and motion.

Friday, May 16, 2008

sticky wickets in Hanoi


Don't worry. We haven't hit any roadblocks. I just like the sound of "sticky wickets," and sticky is what K was when he finished the lollipop at the SOS clinic here in Hanoi. Today we were picked up by our Holt friends (along with the Wise family) and taken to get K's passport. That was another bureaucratically painless event, requiring one signature. Hardly any waiting, even. And then we went to have K's check-up at the SOS clinic prior to the embassy visit. This was a change to the earlier itinerary, but it worked out fine. First we had to stop for photographs, though, since the passport-sized pictures are not the right size for the visa application. Again, that was quick and painless.

At the SOS clinic, we waited a bit more, but that gave us time for a nice chat with the Wise's. And it allowed Maya to share her Cheerios with K. It would be fun to be able to go back and see how these two interacted in the Bien Hoa orphanage, but here, Maya would carefully feed K one Cheerio after another, sometimes biting a Cheerio in half and then giving the other half to K. Very sweet and amusing! There was the moment, though, when Maya got her fingers too far into K's mouth while feeding him a Cheerio, and he bit her....

In addition to Cheerios, K got a lollipop at the clinic, though he wasn't very effective at eating it. He doesn't seem to have the knack of closing his lips around things... like lollipops... and so as he eats, he creates a continuous flow of sticky drool. Like a small, chocolate snail, he ended up leaving a trail of slime all around the clinic waiting area. I followed him, trying to wipe up the floor, walls, and K himself, but it was a losing battle. As he continued to slime away in the examination room with the doctor, I continued trying to keep him from making too great a mess. Finally, the doctor said, "Please don't bother, sir." Fortunately, a moment later K accidentally shot the lollipop out of his mouth and across the floor, creating the perfect opportunity to make the lollipop disappear. He had eaten most of it, so it wasn't like I was taking candy from a baby. I have an aversion to stickiness in general.

So, we've got the passport and a clean bill of health. The very nice doctor confirmed that the scabies seems to be gone. And she confirmed that his head is very lumpy and bumpy... but that the lumps and bumps are just the way his skull is shaped. E had been worrying vaguely about whether K was sprouting water buffalo horns. On Monday, we visit the embassy. Ah, progress.

Last night, we all went to the Thanh Long water puppet theater at the north end of Hoan Kiem lake. It was a terrific performance, and TM and K were entranced the whole time. We didn't get any pictures during the show, but everyone enjoyed it, and we had front row seats. M wants to find one of the frog water puppets. B and TM liked the dragons that squirted water and sparks.

This evening, we'll head back to old quarter for more shopping and dinner... but now TM and B need a swim.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

from the back of the Vinamit Pineapple Chips...

"These products have also a good smelling and crunchy feature which gives a good taste and provide more nutritive facts, vitamins, mineral salt necessary to the organism and protecting from the extra glucoza."

(Gotta watch out for those dangerous glucoza!)

Additional note on the prefix "Vina-":
We've noticed a wide variety of businesses and products in Vietnam that have Vina- as part of the name... including Vinamilk, Vinataxi, Vinaphone, Vinamit, and others. At first, I wondered whether these were all subsidiaries of some huge and shadowy Vinacorp that owned everything. However, thanks to the wonder that is Wikipedia, it appears that "Vina-" is just a prefix that refers to Vietnam. I imagine this is like the prefix "Ameri-" that one can find in abundance throughout the US. (Just Google "Ameri" to see how many different products are sold under some variation of that prefix.)

Hanoi's deceptive streetscape


Walking in Hanoi can be an "assault on the senses" (a phrase I ran into somewhere recently). The sounds, smells, motion, and masses can be overwhelming, making it difficult to focus on any one thing. One feels as if one must keep moving, swept along by the flow of it all, but moving in a blur. As a result, we've found that we must walk the same street several times, at different times of day, to really begin to see what is there.

Just this morning, TM and I went out in search of a bit more breakfast. The few yogurts and the loaf of french bread that we had in the kitchenette here had not gone far enough. I knew that there was a fruit stand next to the Somerset driveway, and a bakery across the street, so we headed first to the bakery. Form some reason, though, the door was locked. So I decided to head up the short street that runs right into the Somerset driveway, at a right angle to Thuy Khue. This street connects the another long street that parallels Thuy Khue (Phan Ding Phun, I think). We'd walked this short street a couple of times, seeing some small shops, including a couple of places that sell baby formula, and so I figured we might find somewhere else selling bread, at least. Lo and behold, there on the east side of the street was a large-ish market, jammed with little booths of meat, rice, noodles, fish, and all sorts of produce. In fact, there were two floors above of housewares and clothes. We had never spotted it before, because, I think, it's only open and busy in the morning, and we'd walked that stretch at noon or later on other days. Later in the day, it has the look of a semi-abandoned, semi-completed building. (There are many buildings in hanoi that look that way to me. They seem to be either under construction or in decay... or both... until you look more closely and see that they are actively in use.)

This market is clearly not a tourist destination, and TM and I attracted a bit of attention. We first wandered upstairs and walked around the housewares stalls. We bought a plastic potty bucket (with a lid!) for K to try using. (Go back to the posts of our previous trip here in July 2006 for discussion of the small children scooting around in the potty buckets.) Then we wandered down to the ground level, and browsed among the pigs feet, organs, hunks of raw meat, fish (live and dead), crabs, etc. Eventually we bought some eggs, pineapple, bread, and bananas. By the time we headed back, the bakery was open again, but we had our hands full and so we skipped it. Maybe another time.

Tomorrow we take the Somerset shopping shuttle to the Unimart for a more modern shopping experience.

M discussed the Ha Long Bay trip briefly in her previous post. It was a lot of bus travel for a little bit of boat ride, but the scenery is stunning (even on a hazy day). I can definitely see taking a multi-day trip that included kayaking... but not with very small new family members.

We're behind posting our pictures, but it's not for lack of photography. M and B have taken their role as National Geographic trainees very seriously, taking pictures at every turn. But uploading them takes a while, and it's time-consuming to sort through the hundreds of pictures on at least two cameras. Not to mention the batteries....

Today was spent walking around the east end of West Lake. A fairly quiet neighborhood walk, with ample opportunity to ponder the water quality. We've seen people fishing in West Lake, both with poles and with nets (either in boats or submerged to their chests)... but I'd be nervous about eating fish caught in that water. (Of course, that may be just what I was eating at the cha ca restaurant the other night.)

K has advanced over the last few days from behaving like a one-year-old to behaving like an eighteen-month-old. He is much more squawky and much less willing to have things done for him. We're trying to teach him not to screech whenever he wants something... by teaching him to sign "please" before we give him whatever it is he is screeching for. So far, not much success. He may think he has a strong will, but he will find that he has met his match in E. Her legendary stubborn-streak will prevail, I feel sure... but how quickly? And what does this all mean for the long plane flight home?

He's also suddenly become a bit more avoidant with E, especially when it is time for the evening pre-bedtime bottle. He will reject the bottle, rather than have her feed him and hold him close. And he seems determined to avoid eye contact with her. B remains one of his favorites... but then B has a whole pack of little boys at home who think he is the coolest thing since Spiderman.

TM remains a bit confused about whether we are still in Vietnam. This evening, he was trying to explain that we are in Hanoi, but not in Vietnam. Then, when we explained the whole city-country relationship, he wanted to know whether Hanoi was bigger than Vietnam. He is also very quick to correct us when we say that we are "going home" when we are just returning to the hotel. It is important to him to remind us that Vietnam is not home. He has been putting up with many people wanting to speak to him and touch him. He obviously doesn't care for it, but he puts up with it. Before lunch today, we visited the pagoda that is built on a small island in West Lake. E had K and as we walked around, she found herself surrounded by a group of ladies, mostly older, who good-naturedly scolded her for not having a hat on K. And then they wanted to know if E was K's mother. (They didn't speak English, but E caught the word for mother and context helped her figure out the questions.) When she said yes, one of the women held E's arm next to K's, pointing back and forth from one to the other, and then pointed from E's hair to K's... laughing at the ridiculousness of this pale blond woman being mother to the little, dark-haired Vietnamese boy. By the time I wandered over with TM, they were pointing to and touching the scar on K's lip where his cleft was repaired, and they were obviously discussing that. A few moments later, a monk ushered us out, a bit sternly. At first, I thought that E and K had stirred up too much of a commotion for the temple grounds... but then it seemed as though visiting time was over and everyone was leaving.

Monday, May 12, 2008


My parents keep telling me to write a blog post, but never tell me what to write about! So this might be rambling and odd. Being in Vietnam has been (and still is) interesting. Traveling with K and TM definitely gets a lot of attention. When we are at a restaurant the waiters swoop down on K and hold him and feed him. It makes us all slightly nervous because sometimes they take him out of sight. How on earth would we be able to explain that we lost the baby because our server never gave him back?

Yesterday we went on a day long trip to Ha Long Bay. It was fun but definitely would be more fun to do a two or three day trip out there. We had a 3 hour bus ride there, and another 3 hours back, for a 4 hour boat ride. I'm sure my father will write in more detail about the trip. We also took a lot of pictures to put on photo bucket.

As I write, B and K are playing. K LOVES B because whenever B is eating, which is frequently, if K comes up and looks beggingly at B, B will give him food. Always a good way to form a bond between brothers. K also is a spoon fanatic. He likes nothing more than to be able to walk around with a spoon and bang on things. I have a feeling that the play kitchen at home will be just his dish.

We might be moving hotels soon. This one is really far away from everything, expensive, and we are all tired of taking taxis everywhere. The only up side for this one is the pool. TM loves it and B and I enjoy it as well. Although it would be more fun if A,P,and D were here as well. It is hard to play pool games with two people, since TM is not a good enough swimmer yet.

Well, I better go now and maybe I will write again another time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

miscellanea from Hanoi


We're beginning to find a routine here, which means that we can report a bit more on various doings of late. Our primary theme is...


B has yet to meet a meal in Vietnam that he didn't like... though he might argue that some of these meals have not come as promptly as his metabolism requires. But when fed, he always perks up. None of our children tend to be picky eaters, but B is definitely adventurous. A couple of nights ago, we ate dinner on a dockside restaurant on West Lake (Ho Tay) [Note: I won't try to reproduce the diacritical marks that indicate the tonal movement necessary to correctly pronounce Vietnamese words.] I think it was the Potomac Restaurant... though why it is named after a Washington DC river is beyond me. B had clams in oil and garlic and pepper, and he practically licked the plate when they were gone.

Last night, we ate at Thuy Linh, a seafood restaurant just behind the Somerset Westlake, facing onto the lake. (It took us a day or two to find and wander the street behind the Somerset that runs along the lake, but it is a much quieter street than Thuy Khue, the street onto which the Somerset faces. Thuy Khue is a busy street, but not one on which tourists wander much. Being so far from the Old Quarter and the French Quarter, there are fewer tourist-y shops, and those that one sees tend to serve local needs [motorbike repair, construction material, etc.]. The other street, along the lake, is mostly residential, with a few food places.) Anyway, Thuy Linh, the seafood restaurant, was quite good, though the staff seemed to have very little English... and we have less Vietnamese. We succeeded in ordering a variety of food, including some delicious crab, encrusted with salt, grilled shrimp, and a few other items. The prices appeared to be quite reasonable... until, after the meal, we realized that the some of the prices were per kilo (or tenth-of-a-kilo?). We ended up paying more for the crab alone than we had previously paid for an entire meal. A bit of a shock, but thus one learns. And, really, despite the sticker shock when measured in VN dong, the meal was still an incredible bargain when compared to what one might pay for the equivalent seafood at a US restaurant.

Fortunately, that expensive dinner was balanced by our lunch yesterday, which was bun cha from a street stand a few blocks away. TM and I had spotted a shop selling inflatable pool toys not too far from the Somerset, and we decided to take a walk and see what they had. TM, B, and M have really enjoyed the swimming pool, and we thought s cheap inflatable toy might be fun... and on the way I could pick up some lunch to eat in the room. The walk was a bit further down Thuy Khue than I remembered, but we made it, purchased our pool toy, and moved on to the bun cha shop... where I was eventually able to order bun cha for five (with a couple of orange sodas) for less than the cost of a cheap pool toy (and cheap swimming goggles). An incredible bargain, from which we even had leftovers.

Bun cha was one of my favorites from our last visit to Hanoi. If Matt Wise has a pho bo monkey on his back, then I have a bun cha monkey on mine. E suggested that I might write an ode to bun cha... and if I were to do so, it might be something like this....


Oh, bun cha, how I love you,
the snowy, undulating hills of your rice noodles,
the verdant mounds of your leafy greens,
your sizzling, smoking pork scenting the air,
your sauce, so tasty,
your taste, so saucy,
nuoc cham and hot peppers, fire and salt water,
something, something, something....

Well, it might be something like that, but finished... and then probably destroyed.

Two nights ago, we took the Somerset dinner shuttle to a cha ca restaurant. Cha ca is fish cooked at your table and served smoking hot with rice noodles, vegetables, and other condiments. The restaurants that specialize in cha ca serve just cha ca... no menu over which to ruminate... just one dish for everyone. But boy is it good. A pan of hot oil perched on a charcoal brazier is brought to your table, in which chunks of fish and various leafy greens are sauteed (or whatever it is that happens in really hot oil. Then everyone just serves themselves from the hot pan. The one downside is sitting at a crowded table in an already hot restaurant right next to a big pile of red hot charcoal. Don't put your beer bottle too close to the pan.

K has been really quite reasonable in all of these restaurants. He's been trying more and more foods... and has been less interested in the rice cereal. He isn't really happy unless he has his own utensil, and he's more interested in feeding himself. We haven't had to hastily exit any restaurants with a screaming child. But we could really use some sort of high chair with a strap and a tray.

K continues to sleep well and to enjoy playing around the room with TM, B, and M. E wonders whether we should be more concerned that he doesn't seem to feel any grief about leaving the orphanage at Bien Hoa. We both have the feeling that there might be another shoe waiting to drop... but I'm not sure we have any good reason to feel that way. Certainly, K is making everything as easy for us as he can, under the circumstances.

Tomorrow we take a day-trip to Ha Long Bay with the Wise family.

We'll attempt to get some more pictures into photobucket later today. But now, TM has been promised some pool time.

Friday, May 09, 2008

More about K


I thought I would share a bit more about K and how he is doing. He is starting to look a bit better after the Elimite treatment for the scabies. All but one of the open sores on his scalp have scabbed over, but there is a large sore in his hairline above the center of his forehead that he keeps scratching open. It is swollen and fairly unattractive. The antibiotic ointment I keep slathering on it doesn't help its looks either. K is still pretty itchy and probably will be for another week. And his hair is starting to grow back. Now when we look at the three large, hairless patches we don't just see scalp but are starting to see little hairs growing in. I am relieved because at least one of the patches was hairless at the time of our second to last report which was ~5 months ago. What if the hair follicles were dead? (Yes, I can obsess about just about anything.)

When you adopt a child internationally, you just don't know what to expect. The medical reports you receive are complicated by translation and cultural assumptions. We are happy to report that we haven't discovered anything (so far) that seems worse than we were expecting. I had one bad moment when giving K his first bath and found a port-wine stain on his scalp under his hair. (If you have to have a birthmark, having it in the hair is the way to go.) I did ask the Wises to put on their medical hats and assure me it's just a birthmark. (Thank you!) It's something I will have the doctor look at when we get home, though. The other surprising thing is K's palate. Our suspicions about the cleft started when after the first 24 hours we had yet to experience the drooling and the food coming out of the nose that other parents of cleft-affected children had warned us about. Last night, K was a little fussy, so we took advantage of the wide-open mouth to shine a light in it a get a good a complete palate. We are baffled. At referral we asked some specific questions about the extent of his clefting and were told both his hard palate and his soft palate were open. Were they examining the same child, or did they repair the palate at the same time as his lip? I also had asked specifically about what surgery was performed and was told only the lip was repaired as the palate didn't look too serious. I will be interested to see what the cleft team at the hospital says when we get home...was his palate ever open? His alveolar ridge (the bony ridge the upper teeth grow out of) is cleft, but the tooth I was expecting him not to have is there, just coming in at a slightly funny angle. (He teeth look straighter than some of our other children's.)

Developmentally, K is much younger than his 2 year old age. There are a few things that tell us he is two...helping to get himself dressed, his ability to stack the stacking cups, his desire to try to do things. But there is so much that is so babyish about him. (I am greatly enjoying his babyness...I know that it will be short-lived.) First he is just tiny. He is in a 9 mos. outfit today and some of the 12-18 mos. clothes seem a bit big on him. B is convinced that K has gained weight over the past week, but that could be related to the fact we had to give him (K not B) a suppository this afternoon. We hope to see some "progress" on that front later today. (Sorry for everyone who thinks that's too much information.) K has a very long attention span, happily playing with a cup and a spoon. I'm unsure whether to be glad he can be interested in something for so long or to be sad that coming from an impoverished environment, cups and spoons are so fascinating.

K has no language. He can understand some VN words, but he only makes little grunts and no consonant sounds at all. This is perhaps the thing that concerns me most at this point. His hearing seems fine, so I don't think it is a result of hearing loss. I just think back to when P was 2 and I had to leave the pediatrician practice we had been going to because I "had words" with the doctor over P's lack of verbal abilities. She had far fewer words than the doctor thought she should...>20 verses 100. But P understood absolutely everything we said, had refined her own personal sign language, and had 3 other siblings who did all her talking for her. K has fewer words and no extenuating circumstances.

But K is as cute as a button. He grins and runs around and plays ball with TM and B. He adores his two big brothers and how they play. M, like J and I, are OK. He happily goes to anyone of us and will smile and look at us, but we are nowhere near as fun as those brothers. He does not like his shoes, though. It's not surprising since he has never worn them. He allows us to put them on, but then it's as if they are made of cement. He absolutely will not move his feet once they are in shoes. We have jokingly wondered if we can find these wonderful cement shoes for TM.

Speaking of whom, TM has been terrific; so much better than we could have ever hoped. He is good with K, walks and walks and walks all over with us, has managed to behave in the endless string of restaurants, and has even been OK with VN people coming up to him and touching him. The most difficult thing has been waking up every now and then with leg cramps. This is something he is prone to, but we haven't been very good about making sure he has been getting enough calcium. In the endless cornucopia of pharmaceutical products that I packed, somehow I overlooked calcium supplements. Imagine.

Before we head down to the pool, I want to thank everyone for all of their prayers. We know they must be being heard. We have felt so loved and supported by all of you through the past 16 months of waiting for K and especially now while we are traveling. So, thank you. I'm sure J will be back later to fill you in on our latest wanderings around Hanoi...which I must add I like so much better than Saigon. It's nice to be back here. Now if only we were in a hotel not in the VN equivalent of the far western suburbs...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On to Hanoi...


We've been a bit lax on posting, but we're now in Hanoi. Yesterday (Wednesday), our last day in Saigon, was partly spent killing time waiting to go to the airport. We had to check out of the Continental at noon, and then after lunch, we just sort of wandered around and then some of us sat in the lobby while others took a walk and got rained on.

But earlier that morning (Wednesday), B and I went to the Cu Chi tunnels and had a tour. No one else relished the idea of crawling through tight spaces, but as it turned out, much of the tour is above ground, and it would be easy enough to skip the tunnels. We got there early, before the tour buses, and our guide was very nice. We saw many types of painful looking traps used by the Cu Chi guerrillas. All involved pits and spikes in a variety of combinations. (Interestingly, the guide was very clear in saying that the Cu Chi guerrillas were NOT Viet Cong, but were local resistance fighter. However, the guidebook refers to them as VC. Originally, the tunnels were begun in the 1950s by Viet Minh resisting the French colonial government. It would be interesting to read more of this history.) B and I went as far in the tunnels as they would let us, and it wasn't too claustrophobia-inducing... though the tunnels have been enlarged a bit for tourists. B could walk bent over, though I had to bend my knees just enough that the tops of my thighs got sore. Check photobucket for some pictures of our visit.

The day before (Tuesday), we walked to the Saigon zoo and botanical garden. The state of the animals left M quite depressed. She did NOT approve of the animal husbandry techniques and the general health of the animals. K really enjoyed my mango ice cream, though. (Pictures on photobucket.) By the time we left, it was almost noon and blazing hot. We had to stop at Pho 24 for lunch and a rest.

Back to yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon... between 2pm and 4pm, E, K, and B sat in the hotel lobby, while M, TM, and I went out and walked. (Mainly to keep me from going stir crazy and to attempt to exhaust TM.) We wandered far, ending up in the area where motorbikes are repaired and sold. Clearly, the Saigon motorbike economy is alive and well. Of course, we got a little turned around just as it started to rain, but we eventually found our way back to the hotel. TM, amazingly, was tired enough to fall asleep on the plane to Hanoi that evening... though that wasn't necessarily a good thing, since he is nearly impossible to wake up.

And now (Thursday morning), we're here in Hanoi... considering a hotel downgrade. We're in an expensive hotel that is too far from the Old Quarter and French Quarter to walk... and we may end up switching to a new hotel... even if it means losing the swimming pool. We don't really have enough room here for the six of us, and if we're going to be crowded, we might as well pay a bit less.

K is getting busier and busier. He's been running up and down the hall, whacking toys off the table, grunting in his funny growly voice, and generally being cute. He sleeps so well we occasionally have to wake up and check on him. He's just generally cute and good. When we leave the room, he does not like to be set down... and he seems to prefer having us all together. He seems to adore both B and TM. We'll try to post a video to photobucket, too... since the connection seems a bit better here. (It better be, we have to pay for it!)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

travelling companions


For another view, see the Wise family blog. They're here with us in HCMC (just a few blocks away), and tomorrow evening we all fly to Hanoi together.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Tuesday morning with K


We feel so incredibly lucky, we almost don't dare to talk about it, for fear that the luck will turn. We know that there are plenty of ups and downs ahead of us, but at the moment, we're on an up.

K slept through the night. That alone would be enough, wouldn't it? But he's also showing quite a bit more personality this morning. He gives coy smiles, plays with his new toys, gobbles down the cereal and formula, gives the occasional grunty shout, and is very attentive to whatever is going on around him. He was stoic and serious all day yesterday, even enduring the elimite treatment for scabies. (That involves being slathered all over, from scalp to the soles of the feet, with pleasantly toxic permethrin cream, which must stay on for 8-14 hours.) (Note to Patty -- Scabies may be more icky than lice. Think lice under your skin.)

We spent much of the afternoon holed up in the hotel room, which made E a bit stir-crazy. Then we went out for a walk to the Citimart for formula, baby cereal, a baby bowl and spoon (which K grabbed as soon as E picked it up, and clutched through the rest of the walk), and various other items, including AA batteries. (We seem to have fried our new battery charger when B plugged it into the 220 outlet without realizing that it needed to be switched from 110v to 220v. The popping noise and the smoke coming out the outlet was our first clue.)

We then wandered around looking for somewhere to eat dinner, until we ended up at a little sidewalk spot. We had decent bun cha, fruity drinks, and ba-ba-ba (333) beer, a Vietnamese standby. One of the many young girls selling flowers and gum stopped at our table to try to make a sale, to which we said, "No, thank you" many times. But even after it was obvious that we weren't buying anything, she stayed standing at the table, staring at E feeding K. Finally, she said, "Lady, you give him bia [beer] so he'll sleep." (Those weren't her precise words, but that was clearly the gist.) She seemed to think it was very funny, but I wonder what she thought of this odd part-Vietnamese family group.

Right now, behind me, K and TM are playing together with books, stacking cups, and a big rubber ball. Having TM here is a wonderful gift. K seems entranced with the blur of motion and noise that is TM.

Despite being two years old, K is much like a one-year-old in size and development. He can walk and has pretty good small motor skills (especially with the stacking cups), but he's a little tyke. We'll be packing the food into him at every opportunity.

Now we're considering a walk to the botanical gardens and zoo, but we also know that the Holt rep will be coming to the hotel at some point with paperwork. So we're not sure whether to wait or go. [Note -- Before I hit "publish," the phone rang and the papers arrived!]

Good news! We were able to upload one video to PhotoBucket. When you click the link, look near the top for the links: (all, 99 images, 1 video) and click the link for "1 video."

Meeting K

This will be brief, since K is sitting on my lap as I type... and he seems to want to help.

Obviously, we've been to Bien Hoa and returned with our newest, and smallest, family member. Our connection seems to be bad, and so I can't load the video here that I was going to load. We'll try later, or we'll add it to PhotoBucket, if we can. (Note: I think our videographer assumed that the camera would know which way was up, and so it would rotate the image if she rotated the camera during the filming. It didn't.) We've also posted some more pix to PhotoBucket.

The Giving and Receiving Ceremony at the DOJ was hardly more ceremonial than a trip to the DMV to renew your driver's license. (As Irene said, the wait was about as long, except that you didn't get to take a number.) We did a lot of sitting and waiting... followed by hurried signing. And it was over.

K has been totally calm and serious throughout. He is, perhaps, in shock, and he does seem like a lost soul. We could tell that he did not want to leave Bien Hoa and his nannies, but he did not weep heartbreaking sobs... as the Wises' M did. We may be in for more of that later... but we just don't know yet.

M got the first smile from K at the DOJ when she opened her mouth wide. Maybe it was the braces.... He does seem to smile at wide-open mouths, though he immediately turns away. (Right now, he is studiously avoiding looking at me.)

In appearance, he's a pathetic little guy... covered in sores and scabies marks. His hair is a bit patchy, and he's just generally spotty. But such a sweet face, and such big hands and feet. Like a cross between a great dane puppy and a marmoset baby. He just stares and stares... like an owl baby. Silent and serious.

K seems to have a fairly intense attention span, to match his serious demeanor. When we first returned to the room, he played with a set of stacking cups on the floor for a solid 30 minutes.

We're a bit in shock, too... waiting for the reality to settle in. We were back in the hotel by noon, and then M and I picked up some banh mi (sandwiches on baguettes) and iced coffee and fruit drinks. We're not sure whether we'll eat in or out... but we need to get out to buy some formula. K has eaten a fair bit... bananas, bread, some ham, small bits of dragon fruit... but he doesn't seem to know how to chew. (Maureen -- E wishes she had your baby food mill!)

TM has been wonderful, really jumping into the big brother job. But he jabbered non-stop the whole time we were at the DOJ. At one point, the young man with Holt turned to M and me and said, "He talks a lot, doesn't he." Yes, he does. But he's also been a trooper, as have M and B.

There were many babies at Bien Hoa, and if we'd had time, E would have held them all. We got to see the one-year-old triplets (one of whom we're helping to support). They are about as big as K, despite being a full year younger. Sad to think about what little chance those babies may have of finding families, at this point.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

New pictures in the Bucket

M and B have already been hugely helpful on this trip. They've helped schlep luggage and entertain TM... and they've become the official photographers. We've posted a few of M's pictures from this morning in our PhotoBucket album (see the list of links). More to come in future days.

We've had our first lunch of pho at Pho 24 restaurant, across from the Ben Thanh market. Earlier, we met up with the Wise family, with whom we'll be going to Bien Hoa, and took a walk to the Ben Thanh market.

E is now busily sorting gifts for tomorrow's trip to Bien Hoa and G&R ceremony.

Random traffic observations: We weren't really in Saigon last visit, so our comparisons may be flawed, but there seem to be many more scooter-riders wearing helmets now. And there seem to be more functional stop lights and cross walks with lights. Maybe we're just in an area with more tourists, and the crosswalk lights are an attempt to preserve the lives of these walking economic resources.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

We're here....

With hardly a hitch, we've arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Twenty-two hours in airplanes (on the ground and in the air) and very few psychological scars to show for it. Our first flight was delayed leaving O'Hare, but not too much, and it meant that we had a fairly short wait in Tokyo.

TM held up like a seasoned traveller. He was very entertained by Japan Airlines' video options and the video games... even watching the Hannah Montana show in the Disney channel, at least twice through.

Tomorrow should be low stress, but first, we sleep.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

We're off!

The next time we post will most likely be from Vietnam. I have conquered the massive 'to do' list: the bags are packed, the house is picked up (it's not clean, but our contractor is hiring a cleaning service to come in while we're gone), belongings of the children staying with friends have been moved, and we even managed a round of miniature golf this afternoon. Now all we have to do is try to get some sleep and leave for the airport in the morning. Those last two items seem the most difficult of the lot. My mind is racing and I'm not sure I will be able to fall asleep and leaving for the airport involves saying good-bye to A, P and D. This is the part of the journey that always makes my stomach clench. I wish we didn't have to leave some behind.

So until we say hello again from the other side of the world....
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