Friday, February 5, 2010

Last Day in Guangzhou - 18 Dec 2009

Hello all. This will be our last email entry while in China. Many of you have told us that you've enjoyed following along on our journey to add little Elyssa Li to the Forn Family. Sorry we filled up your in-box with all the pictures!

The last few days have been filled with shopping for children's clothing and toys. Elyssa has really been a trooper as Mommy was her usual shopping self. Nancy got a few more outfits today to include shoes, socks, etc. As long as Elyssa has a toy to play with, she doesn't seem to mind hanging out with Mommy at all. Watch out LA malls, here they come! Too bad Nancy can't bargain on the prices back home. She will threaten to walk out of a shop if she can't get that 5 yuan (less than $1) discount!

We got Elyssa's visa to enter the USA today. That was the last major milestone in this journey to bring home our little princess! We all went to the US Consulate yesterday to take an oath and apply for Elyssa's visa. The trip was very eventful. As soon as we boarded the bus to go to the consulate, we realized that our little girl left us an unwanted package... if you know what I mean. As soon as we arrived at the office building housing the consulate, Brian had to change our little girl in the men's room. Elyssa was, from that point on, in her worst mood of the trip. She howled and was inconsolable for the better part of 30 minutes until one of the other mother's offered us a lollypop. We then remembered that we had lollypops, or crack for kids as we like to call them, in our bag. Elyssa eventually calmed down and slept the entire way back to the hotel. While at the consulate, we took a little oath that officially made Nancy and Brian Elyssa's parents!

We leave the hotel tomorrow morning at 6 AM for the ride to the airport. We then fly to Tokyo and then on to Los Angeles. Our bags are packed with snacks, toys, and diapers in anticipation of BFs (#@&$^ Fits), boredom, hunger, and diaper blowouts. Please wish us luck!

We arrive in LA on Saturday morning and say goodbye to Daddy on Sunday morning as he heads back to Iraq for nine long months.

Hope everyone is well. Thanks so much for your encouragement, love, and support.

Brian, Nancy, and Elyssa Li

All is well in Guangzhou - 14 Dec 2009

Hello all!

Sorry for the lack of emails in the last few days. We've been very busy with all the medical and visa paperwork here in Guangzhou. The family arrived here on the 11th of December late in the evening. Elyssa's first plane ride went very well. She ate a huge bowl of noodles while we were waiting for the plane to taxi onto the runway for takeoff. It was pretty funny how we came about getting the noodles. Our friends and their children were eating the noodles in the waiting area and as soon as Elyssa saw them, she went nuts and wanted her own! Daddy immediately went to get a bowl for his little girl. After cooking with the available hot water in the terminal, we dumped the broth in order to bring the noodles onto the plane without fear of disaster.

Once we were on the plane and finished eating, Elyssa began to explore her surroundings. Thank goodness for window shades and tray tables as they entertained our intrepid traveler for nearly two hours. As long as she never threw a fit, we were happy to let her explore the in flight magazines and eat the airline food. Unfortunately, I think the latter made us a little sick the next day.

After arriving in Guangzhou, which has a fabulous new airport, we met our guide, Raymond. Now Ray was very concerned with our comfort. In fact, it was to the point that it was a little annoying. We were just about to tell him to shut it and get into the van. He thought we needed to get our bags into another vehicle so that we wouldn't be crowded. Come on Ray! In addition to the Meyers, we picked up one additional family in Guangzhou. Our buddy Rick and his new son, Beau, were arriving from another province. This poor man had just spend five full days in his hotel room with his son and was in great need of adult company.

Our hotel here is on Shamian Island along the banks of the Pearl River. This is the place where in 1841 the French and British built a trading settlement at the end of the First Opium War. In fact, this is the place where the word cantonment came. Now, it seems that the entire island is under construction as they prepare to host the Asian Games soon.

We are staying at the White Swan hotel, a large modern hotel sitting on the banks of the Pearl. Since the American Consulate here is the only one in the country to deal with adoption, families converge on Shamian and the White Swan in order to get their children ready for the journey to America. The biggest gates to traverse through are the medical and immigration proceedings. So many adoptive families stay here that the hotel has gained the nickname, the White Stork.

This morning, Elyssa completed her second visit to the medical clinic. She received six vaccinations! Our little baby was NOT happy about getting stuck in each arm and each leg. She is sleeping off the trauma right now... poor little thing. The next step for the process involves our agency, Holt, taking our visa papers to the consulate to get Elyssa her papers to enter the States. I hope all goes well as we are anxious to get back home!

Mommy is very excited to go shopping for some clothes later today. We journeyed north of the island yesterday to Qingping Market and a large pedestrian street full of modern shops. It was very entertaining walking threw Qingping as all manner of roots, herbs, spices, and lizards on a stick were available. The pedestrian street was more our speed with modern shops and restaurants.

Elyssa has really blossomed over the last four or five days. She is now enjoying her baths, is constantly smiling, and always wants to play. She is such a precious little girl! And of course, Daddy is spoiling her every chance that he gets!

The Forns

The Orphanage - 10 Dec 2009

Hello all!

As you can see, Elyssa is never one to disregard her appearance. She LOVES looking at and having a conversation with herself in front of the mirror. What a ham!

We got an early start to the day today in order to pay a visit to the orphanage where little ELF, that's Elyssa Li Forn, got her start in the world. Our travel partners here, the Myers Family said it best... seeing the orphanage is really closure for the parents. We were concerned that the kids might have some trouble with going back to see the place where they spent a sizable portion of their lives. You can see the Family portrait in from of the building below.

When we walked in, we were all very impressed with how clean and orderly the place was. Of course, they knew we were coming and theoretically had the time to get the place cleaned up. However, the shear size of the place would preclude any serious white glove janitorial work for our sake. The furniture and building looked great and would rival anything we have back home.

From the minute we walked into the first nursery, we heard our baby's name, Li Fang, from the staff. They all recognized her right away. One lady came up and through an interpreter explained that she checked up on Elyssa once every week over the last 18 months while she was in foster care. Elyssa started to cry when she saw the ladies. We're sure it wasn't because she didn't like the women; she was actually attached to us and didn't want to go back to the orphanage. Remember, about ten days before we arrived in China, Elyssa was taken back to the orphanage from the foster family she had spent over one year with. It made us very happy when Elyssa insisted in getting back into Daddy's arms!

In the end, we were very happy that we visited. Years from now, I think Elyssa will be happy that we were able to give her a little insight into this chapter of her life.

Following the visit to the orphanage, the clan decided to make up for the horrendous visit to the Zoo from the day prior and caught a cab to the Yunnan Safari Park on the north end of town. What a difference! This is a first class place. The animals have much more space, even though it is still sad to see a tiger pace back and forth in an enclosure. As you can see, for about 10 Yuan, or about $1.50, we were able to get up close and personnel with some of the cutest creatures on Earth. The Safari also had a pair of uber-cute red pandas, monkeys, and other cute and not so cute critters. Great fun was had by all. As the last photo shows, our little ELF really enjoyed herself.

Stay tuned.

The Forns

The Gloves Come Off - 9 Dec 2009

Hello all.

Our third day as a family saw Elyssa throw her first big demper tantrum, or BF as Chris and Sheila refer to it. We had just finished breakfast and went to Wal Mart to purchase some baby clothes since all the stuff we brought was actually too big for her. As Nancy and I went through the store in search of some items for Elyssa, little did we know that terror lurked in the not too distant future. As we were in the checkout line, Elyssa became a little despondent as she was getting a little hungry and didn't see Mommy or Daddy getting any grub ready. Her displeasure started as a small whimper but quickly built to a crescendo as Brian quickly got her out of the shopping cart, collected the stroller, and made a beeline towards the exit. Once Brian reached the exit, there was no end to the back arching, screaming, and crying. Everyday Chinese folk were either displeased or very entertained as told by the crowd gathered around. Nancy eventually made it outside where the new sippy cup was unceremoniously unwrapped and put to good use. Lesson learned, never leave the scene of the crime without a sippy cup and some crackers! The remainder of the third day was fairly uneventful as we all walked to a local ex-pat restaurant that had excellent pesto and burritos. Unfortunately, no high chairs to be found. The owner, a North American, stated that he had never thought about getting one, and should. Not many young'uns in this place it seems.

After another GREAT night of sleep, we went to the local Zoo here in Kunming. We should have paid attention to the reviews on-line. What a sad state the animals were in! Some of the monkeys were in dirty cages the size of pet carriers! There were chained up elephants and big cats and bears with nothing to see in their lives but a 20 foot concrete and glass enclosure. It seems that the Safari Park north of town is the place we should have visited. We may go there tomorrow.

Upon returning to the hotel, Elyssa took a nap and Mommy and Daddy had some lunch from room service. We then hit the playground, a late dinner, and got the little on off to bed. Elyssa still does not like here baths. Nancy made a bubble bath tonight and it seems that Elyssa hated the bubbles on her hands. Too funny... this girl always wants clean hands.

We are off to visit the orphanage tomorrow morning. This may not be a good idea for the kids, but our guide seems to think that it's been long enough for Elyssa to not be hurt by the return. We'd hate for her to think we were trading her in!

As always, stay tuned for more updates.

The Forns

A Great Day

Nei Hao Everyone!

So, we were all pretty tired from an exciting day yesterday. Nancy and I both kind of felt like we were baby sitting this little girl. However, after dealing with a fit during dinner and bath time, we know she's ours now!

We had to get off to an early start this morning in order to get Elyssa her Chinese Passport. So, we woke up at 6 AM to great the day ahead. Well, actually, daddy and baby woke up with the alarm whilst mommy had trouble sleeping due to a cold. Our little girl slept so well last night. Just before the alarm went off, she raised her head just to see what was up. Daddy grabbed her and threw her into bed with him for another 20 minutes or so. Then it was time to get dressed for breakfast. Let me tell you something, Nancy and Elyssa both LOVE their clothes. You could say that they are cut from the same cloth... The little one loves to get dressed to hit the town, or the buffet in this case.

At breakfast, Elyssa continued to feed herself, with a little assistance. She had some congee (which is a sort of rice porridge), eggs, bacon, and croissant. We had to cut breakfast a little short in order to get on the bus for the paperwork meetings.

We went back to the same place we met Elyssa to fill out yet another few forms. These were for her Chinese passport this time. The Chinese notaries were there to stamp everything. Elyssa even had to sign... with her foot! She didn't mind all that much. But she does NOT like her clothes removed. However, when she saw the red ink pad that she was going to be stepping in, she didn't mind all that much.

Upon completing our paperwork, we were off to the local police station to apply for her passport. There was a nice little park area outside the station where we all hung out until it was Elyssa's time to get her photo taken. Let me tell you, getting these kids to pose, just so, for an official photo is an adventure. Some Danish folks with their babies had to play like they were Jim Henson muppeteering Kermit the Frog to get these kids to show both eyes, one ear, and no other person in the shot. Hand up the back of the sweater seemed to be the method of choice. Elyssa however was not cooperating at all. The photographer was patient with us, although I could tell he was all, "great, another kid... they don't pay me enough yuon for this." Amazingly, the dude snapped an acceptable portrait in mid whimper and we were on the way upstairs to complete the application. This involved yet another, yet not as formal, photo. Daddy had to sit Elyssa on his lap for this one.

Formalities complete, the gang headed back to the hotel for a much deserved lunch and a nap. Elssya and Daddy took a two hour nap while Mommy watched a movie. We were then off on a walk around the beautiful Green Lake Park right next to our Hotel, the Grand Park Kunming. There were people, ducks, and plenty of sights for our little explorer. I tell you, if we had a dollar for the second looks we get walking around with Elyssa... I guess we do stand out a bit. The folks here just don't hide their curiosity at all. Funny.

Following the walk, we had dinner, where Elyssa threw a little fit just as the food arrived. Daddy took outside to let her cool off. Funniest thing happened, and I am forever in debt to the restaurant hostess. Elyssa let the hostess pick her up where she immediately stopped crying, chewed the food that was squirreled away in her cheeks, and let Daddy take her back to the table. She was content for the rest of the meal. She even learned the sign for more. Once Nancy taught her that sign, she used it to get more crackers until Mommy cut her off.

Again, getting this kid out of her clothes is tragic. She howled with terror as each item of clothing was removed for bathtime. It didn't matter whether it was a jacket, a sweater, or a sock. She was very displeased. Following the bath, she returned to her calm self as she watched her videos we bought for her in Beijing. Nancy and I now know a few Chinese children's songs. We even know our ABCs!

All is now peaceful and we have three free days to look forward to. We may hit the zoo tomorrow. We hear that they have four Pandas that you can actually see, unlike the stealth pandas at the San Diego Zoo.


The Forns

Meet Elyssa Li - 6 Dec 2009

Hello Family and Friends!

The day at long last arrived and what a wonderful day it was! Nancy and I finally brought home our precious little girl from the beautiful city of Kunming. The day started with us in Beijing for the second time in as many years. We flew out this morning at 1100 and arrived in Kunming after a three hour flight. An hour after checking in our hotel, we drove to the orphanage to get Elyssa. When we walked into the building where they had the children, we immediately saw Elyssa playing in a crib. She gave us a glance and then kept quietly playing with a piece of paper. I am sure it was some bureaucratic form that she found on a counter somewhere. I hope she knew it was one of the awful forms that made this process take so blessed long! Anywho, we had to go to the other side of the room in order to give the staff a chance to do what it is they do.

After bring her over to us, the very first thing Elyssa did was, you guessed it, cry. Well, she really wasn't sure about these strange looking people who just wanted nothing more than give her hugs and kisses. Brian actually saved the day by showing her some photos on his camera. She was happy to look at all the old shots of dogs, family, and a recent trip to Vancouver, BC. After about twenty or thirty minutes of looking at the camera and playing with a toy phone we brought for her, she promptly passed out on Nancy. Brian had to complete some paperwork that Nancy promised she would complete. Nancy had a pretty darn cute excuse though since Elyssa had her pinned in that chair!

After about an hour or so at the orphanage, the Forns and the other family traveling with us, the Meyers from Silverton, Oregon, hopped back on the short bus for the ride back to the hotel. Daddy happily obliged as Elyssa's "wooby." She looked like she was sleeping to everyone but Brian who could see that she looked out at the passing people and cars the entire drive back. Upon reaching the hotel, we realized it was the baby's dinner time. Brian was really worried about Nancy since she was getting really cranky from hunger. We walked across the street with Elyssa in tow and had a fun meal. We have discovered that Elyssa can feed herself, is very adept at using a spoon and fork, and loves pretty much all food. She even cracked a smile for the first time after having a few bites of food!

After dinner, the clan took a journey to the local Wal Mart. Yes, an actual Wal Mart right here in South Central! Of course all the products are Chinese. "Is that baby formula or gunpowder honey?" Gail, you've been to Korea, I know you know what we're talking about. Elyssa was a champ! She was all eyes walking through town to the store. She even got to try some samples in the store. We ended up getting some formula, some sort of fruit jello mold, a bowl, and a spoon (which we think Brian left in the store),

Upon reaching the hotel, we got Elyssa ready for bed. She cried in the tub, but it was more a "just making noise to let you know I'm not happy with current developments" type of cry than a "I will keep this up all night if you don't get me dry" cry. Elyssa then got her little PJs on and sat with daddy for a few moments watching a Chinese video. She didn't fuss when she was placed in the crib next to the bed and is at this minute snoozing away. I think this kid could sleep through a hockey game. Growing up around all the other kids can have its advantages!

Truth be told, we couldn't have scripted a better day. Our daughter is an amazing little girl who seems to be warming to us very rapidly. I can't wait for everyone to meet her!

Hope all is well. We'll post more tomorrow.

Brian, Nancy & Elyssa Li Forn

Gotcha Day! - 6 Dec 2009

Hello all!

Today is the day that Nancy and I have been waiting for for the last year! We are meeting our daughter today!

Nancy arrived here on Friday night. I joined her after traveling for four days from Baghdad. My first stop was a hole in the wall camp west of Kuwait City, Camp Ali Al Salem. I flew there from Baghdad and went through all the in-processing for Rest and Recuperation (R&R) Leave. I must say that the Army did a great job at getting me to Beijing at the right time. The big issue was that I only get 15 days off and needed exactly that time for this trip. The great thing is that the 15 days doesn't start until the day after you arrive at your destination and it stops the day before you fly back to where you have to sign back in. In this case, I have to fly back to Dallas to sign in on the 20th of December. This is just enough time to get back to Los Angeles and then fly out the next morning. How grand.

So, I arrived in Beijing an hour late and got my ride to the hotel. Of course Nancy was already comatose from her trip. We talked for an hour or so and then crashed. The next morning, we had an orientation meeting with all the other Holt families here to get their children. At the end of the briefing, we received a packet with new photos of our precious little girl! She and another child are back at the orphanage now and have been for about a week. The caregivers bring the foster care kids back to the orphanage about a week before they meet their new parents. This helps to start the grieving process for the kids.

After the meeting, the other families went on a tour to the Forbidden City. Since Nancy and I were just there (in much warmer weather) a few years ago, we decided to head out on our own. Our Hotel (Novotel Peace Hotel) was only about a mile from Tienanmen Square. We decided to walk to the square and along the way we met two local college girls who spoke with us and took us to their little art gallery near the square. Too bad we were broke because they had some beautiful art!

After walking to the square, we went to a book store and bought a Chinese DVD set for Elyssa. It is a famous kids series that the book store girl recommended. I knew it had to be good because I later showed it to a little boy and his mother and they smiled and from their reaction, I knew it was a favorite in their home.

At the end of the day, Nancy was hungry for some noodles so we found a great mall and, after looking at EVERY menu, we settled on a nice little place that treated us extremely well. I'll tell you, this is our second visit to China and I have never visited a friendlier place. The people here are genuinely happy to meet Americans and the young folk are always approaching you to try out their english skills.

So, we are now in the old terminal at the Beijing airport waiting on our flight. Unfortunately, we can't log onto our blog. The other family traveling with us to Kunming has also had issues with getting onto their blogs. It seems that most social networking sites are all blocked. So, we will probably have to post e-mails when possible.

Our travel partners are a family from Salem, Oregon who are adopting a 15 month old boy. The mom and dad are educators and they brought their young boy and girl with them. This should be a fun trip!

Stay tuned. When we get digital photos later today, we'll do our best to send them out to you all.


Brian and Nancy