Ok, So we get to Japan and China last November, and all my hopes of documenting our trip went out the window.
Let me just say this: It was incredible. Seven months later and we are still talking about it regularly. I was surprised at how much J was able to appreciate despite her tender age of 5. Many times during our planning stages, I wondered if I was doing the right thing in taking this trip now. I have no regrets whatsoever. Mind you, J is very mature for her age and dealt with all challenges way better than I would have at her age.
J did experience jetlag in the form of a tantrum each day around supper time (both in China and back home). However, as long as I was able to get her to have a nap in the afternoon, she was ok. We did this by bringing the Kangaroo wrap everywhere we went (yes... my 5 year old still fit in a Kangaroo wrap, much to the excitement of the Chinese ladies who would stop and watch from the moment I took it out of the bag right up to the moment when my daughter was properly snuggled in). This meant that J missed about 1 1/2 to 3 hours of every day's sightseeing. Thankfully, I took pictures of EVERYTHING! (Albeit, with my phone's camera, because J dropped my good camera on a marble bench on day 1 in Guangzhou, and it was beyond repair.)
We first traveled to J's birthplace (Guigang, in the Guangxi Independent Region, China) by train, and spent 2 wonderful days there. Although we were not able to meet with the orphanage staff nor meet the foster family,(much to J's chagrin) we did end up seeing the outside and meeting one employee to whom we gave gifts for the staff and for the foster family. We have no idea whether or not it ever got to them.
Interestingly, this trip has given J a whole new interest in learning Mandarin. She has been attending Chinese School on Saturday mornings for 3 years, but now, she recognizes the importance of it, and she has decided she wishes to become fluent so that she may speak to her foster mummy when she meets her someday, and her tummy-mummy if we ever find out who she is (She understands that this is very unlikely, but also that it has happened for some adoptees in the past).
After we left Guigang, we returned to Guangzhou by train. My BFF was teaching at Clifford School so she took us to school one day, for her students to meet us. J seemed to really enjoy this and still refers to this as one of the highlights of the trip. We spent most of our time in Guangzhou just mixing in with the locals. We set off every morning by bus and subway, and roamed the city. We ate street food, we haggled on every purchase, and bought and cooked foods that were foreign to us. Apart from the fact that we stayed in a very nice condo-style apartment in a gated community, we felt we truly experienced what it would be like to live there. Some aspects that we found disgusting on our last trip (i.e. kids using the sidewalks as bathrooms) actually made sense to us this time around (it was less gross that the squatter toilets you could smell from a mile away). I never used a squatter toilet the first time we traveled. This time, I used plenty of them, with my first one being on the train (thankfully-it had a grab bar to hold on to).
We ate amazing food including things we had never tasted (lotus root soup and boiled frog) and J enjoyed her BBQ'd sardines on a stick :-)
We have managed to find a few favourites since we've been back (including an orange drink that I really liked and some Milk Tea like we had in Japan), but we continue to seek some other things (like the delicious egg tarts made in a puffed pastry shell, and steamed pork dumplings with sweet corn).
So all in all, the trip was an amazing success. I reiterate that Japan Airlines is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! Their staff was the most wonderful staff I have ever met. Prior to the flight, they all gathered around the attendant's desk, welcoming passengers on board with a collective bow prior to them boarding the aircraft and starting our boarding. I was over my carry-on allowance, but instead of telling me I had to check some of it, THEY HELPED ME CARRY AND STORE IT! They were so attentive. During the entire flights (even the 12 hour one), we were never more than 5 minutes without seeing an attendant as there was always one pacing in the aisles. They refilled my water bottle with ice water too many times for me to count. And on our flight back, when I was looking for something new for J to play with in the middle of the night with my bag near the emergency exit, one of the approached me (I thought she would tell me to move away from there, and in a way she did, but so delightfully) and she asked if I would like to come to the kitchen area where there was more light. She closed the curtain so as not to disturb anyone with the light and then entertained J until I found what I was looking for. Finally, they gave J a gift on every flight (a metal plane that she could assemble herself, sticker games, etc). Oh wait-there's more! The Food! OMG, the food was incredible. Smartly, I had ordered children's meals for J, so that we had more variety to choose from if there was something we didn't like. Instead we liked EVERYTHING! Especially the delicious Haagen-Dazs ice cream they provided on every flight!!!
So the trip was an incredible success. I am ridiculously thankful to the benefactor who paid for this trip for us, without whom it never would have been able to happen. We would go back in an instant, but can't afford it just yet. Our next one is already in the planning stages, though, and should, hopefully, occur sometime between November 2015 and March 2016 (don't get excited, we're not adopting again). Oh, happy day!