Pandas, Trains, and The Mouse
Do you have this in US zoos?  Nope.

Do you have this in US zoos? Nope.

Giraffes are pretty rude.  Just ask Corin.

Giraffes are pretty rude. Just ask Corin.

Our last day spent in Guangzhou started out well. We spent the morning at the Safari Park- a big step up from the zoo we went to there last time. This place had a real safari ride through different habitats where we could see uncaged animals in their natural environments up close and personal. We took the opportunity to spend most of our foot tour portion of the park seeing native animals we can’t see at home- the panda bears.

They seem to have a lot of these here.

Snack time!!!!

They look so huggable.

They look so huggable.

Two of the triplets born last year.

Two of the triplets born last year.

We also got to see some adorable koalas!
Awwwwwww.

Awwwwwww.

You get your sleep when you can, where you can.  We totally get this.

You get your sleep when you can, where you can. We totally get this.

By the time we reached close to four hours in the park, Carrigan was D.O.N.E. I can’t even remember what started his fit (it can be the slightest thing like dropping a piece of trash he was holding), but it literally lasted for a full hour, all the way through the park to the exit (while onlookers watched us horrified) and all the way back to the hotel on the 45 minute bus ride. He would not come out from under the bus seats and howled the entire trip. Since we’re around other adoptive families, they understand (some of their little ones have had a tough time, too), but we are the only ones adopting an older child in our group, and I’m not sure after seeing our struggles that any of them will be back to do the same. They all were adopting babies under 2. We did meet one other family from a different agency we met up with at some of the appointments and at breakfast that was adopting a 3 year old little boy, and we watched them deal with tantrums and fits from their little guy, as well, so we know this is a common issue with children coming from hard places. We are both re-reading the “Connected Child” the BEST post-adoption book for helping adopted children heal that’s out there. We need to re-fresh our memory on the best way to deal with this and help him (and us) cope.
We have had a LOT of times like this.

We have had a LOT of times like this.

But we also had times like this.

But we also had times like this.

These are just like real pandas.  But different.

These are just like real pandas. But different.

When we got back to the hotel, we had to quickly gather our slew of baggage and head down to the lobby to catch our ride to the train station. We were supposed to get a van from Guangzhou to Hong Kong instead of the train, as that is a more convenient, yet pricier option. We had planned to pay the $400 for this van ride so that we could do door-to-door service for the 3 hour trip there- a lot to pay, but we thought it would be worth it with all our stuff and a pile of kids. However, when we realized the conversion rate of the price, it was not the price the agency quoted us- not $400, but $700!!! And, we found out it would require a switch to 2 vehicles at the border of Hong Kong because they did not have a vehicle that would accommodate all of us with Hong Kong’s regulations. While we didn’t understand all of the details, we did understand that $700 was way more than we were prepared or wanted to pay! We had hoped to afford a surprise trip to Hong Kong Disney on the way home if we had Carrigan’s visa in time, and if we paid this much for a van, that wasn’t going to happen. If you know me, you know my ‘thing’ is getting a good deal and not feeling like we overpaid or got ripped off for something. I went down to the ticket center in the hotel and found out what the cost would be to instead take the train into Hong Kong- we took it in the reverse on our last adoption trip, and I don’t remember it being too awful, and it might save us some money. The agency would be sure we got to the train station in Guangzhou (no added cost) and we would just need to get from the Hong Kong train station to our hotel near the airport on our own- 2 taxis- sounds easy enough. When I found out the train ticket cost for all of us- $100 USD total- sold. Done deal. 2 taxis to the hotel from there were quoted around $80 USD. We cancelled the van and headed for the train. We’d save $500, more than enough to do a day at Disney (much cheaper than US Disney- half the cost because it’s half as good), for just a little added hassle, so we thought.

The triplets approve of meals that are smiling at you.

The triplets approve of meals that are smiling at you.

Getting to the train and the train ride itself was fine- of course, there were fits of rage on the way and through the station, but that’s our new normal for now. By the end of our travels we may all be throwing fits of rage. When we got to the train station in Hong Kong, we realized we didn’t have cash in Hong Kong currency to pay for taxis to the hotel. Since we had so much heavy baggage, Joey left the kids and I near the taxi loading area to go find a currency exchange, which took way longer than any of us expected. During this time, a man came up to the kids and I telling us he had a van that could seat all of us so we didn’t have to take two taxis and split up for $400 HKD (about $50 USD), less than the cost of 2 taxis. Common sense and my trusty guidebooks warned me of “deals” like this offered by taxi drivers roaming around stations looking for people like us. The man started wandering around, I knew, waiting for Joey (easy to spot the white guy looking for his family) to pitch the deal to him before I could warn him “NO!”, and in the meantime, I noticed a sign for the free “Airport Express” shuttle, something I thought I remembered being told about in broken English over the phone by the hotel in Hong Kong when I inquired about the best way to reach the hotel from the train station. Since our hotel is very close to the airport, it made sense to take the Express shuttle there, then take the free hotel shuttle from the airport to the hotel (again, always looking for a bargain!). By this point, seeing how tourists are taken for gullible folk, I wasn’t too keen on splitting up and taking two taxis as a woman traveling alone with little ones. So, when Joey returned and told the solicitor to get lost, we decided on the Airport Express shuttle. He didn’t “get lost” however, without first warning us of something about needing a “ticket” and pointing us in the direction of the shuttle. We had no idea what the guy was talking about needing a ticket for, as they let us on the shuttle without any problem. Whatever.
Garrick was not to be outdone by Carrigan's fits.

Garrick was not to be outdone by Carrigan’s fits.

We still have fans.

We still have fans.

Garrick feeling big in the rent-a-stroller.

Garrick feeling big in the rent-a-stroller.

Now, if you are like me, you think of an “Airport Express” shuttle” as 1)going to the airport 2) Express meaning, it goes straight there, without any stops. After several stops at random hotels to pick up more people (we quickly realized it wasn’t ‘Express’) we ended up the last ones on the shuttle at the “Kowloon Train Station” and NOT the airport (at first we thought it was the same train station we had just left, but we soon realized this was yet another diffferent train station!), and the driver parked and quickly got our luggage off the shuttle and told us to get off- this was the last stop. Um, but this is not the airport…we were so confused, but we had no choice but to exit the bus. So, here we are, at about 9PM (if we would have taken the van, we would have been at the hotel an hour ago, enjoying free drinks and appetizers in the executive lounge), trying to figure out how to get to the airport (which isn’t even our final destination- just the place we needed to get on the free shuttle to our hotel! At this point I’m really wishing we would have taken our chances on the taxi driver soliciting us at the first train station). We noticed one of the train lines at the ticket center said, “Airport Express”…so it is the name of the train line that goes to the airport, and apparently that is why the shuttle is called that- because it takes you to the train line that then takes you to the airport. Ugh. Lost in translation somewhere. We then had to purchase tickets to take the subway (the cost of two taxis, which would have also had us at the hotel by now!) to a location within walking distance of our hotel, which we thought sounded better than making another transfer with all our stuff. Oh, and as soon as we purchased the tickets and got on the subway, we noticed a huge billboard advertising that “kids ride free!” on the train from April-May. Nothing frustrates a bargain shopper more. Under typical conditions, I would have asked for a refund. Oh, and “walking distance” is a completely different meaning when you are traveling with 3 children who require being carried at 10PM (and still haven’t had dinner!) and you also are trying to lug around over 200 pounds of luggage. Needless to say, by the time we got to the room with our airport-priced, pre-made Subway sandwiches from the train station, it was after 11PM. What. A. Nightmare. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for, and $700 wasn’t sounding so bad afterall.
The good news is that after our 7+ hour travel fiasco (for a trip that should have taken less than half that amount of time), we ended our time in China on a good note- a surprise trip for the kids to Disneyland! We spent about a half day there, since that’s about all Carrigan could handle. He wasn’t so convinced it is the happiest place on Earth.
As close as he wanted to get to the paratrooper ride.

As close as he wanted to get to the paratrooper ride.

Same goes for Charlotte.

Same goes for Charlotte.  Note the date change on the camera between the pics.

HK Disney - half the price, half the thrills.

HK Disney – half the price, half the thrills.

His first - and last - ride that left the surly bonds of earth.

His first – and last – ride that left the surly bonds of earth.

The smaller happiest place on earth!

The smaller happiest place on earth!

The world is especially small in HK Disney.

The world is especially small in HK Disney.

But he really enjoyed it, overall.  Well, some of it.  Bah, he liked 15% of it.

But he really enjoyed it, overall. Well, some of it. Bah, he liked 15% of it.

The plane ride home was 16 hours of pure hell. There isn’t too much worse than being stuck in a small encapsulated space with a screaming child and over a hundred other annoyed passengers who really can’t appreciate where this little guy is coming from. By the end of the flight, I was in tears, too, and between Garrick and Carrigan, Joey and I did not have any uninterrupted time to enjoy a movie, a game or a conversation. Garrick has transformed from a complacent infant into a roaring toddler just in the past two weeks, and now that he is a full-blown walker, he is not content to sit, and he’s so over the movies with the headphones on this flight. If you can believe it, none of the children slept on the entire flight- each time Carrigan would try to doze off, he would awaken after a few minutes in a rage of discomfort and anger over his situation. At one point, he was in such a delirious state of anger, kicking and thrashing (the one major blessing of this trip, however, was that the seat in front of Carrigan was empty, since he kicked it the entire trip) and screaming on the floor underneath the seats, that a stewardess (an angel sent from heaven!) who spoke fluently in English and Chinese came over to try to help. She was able to coax him out of his hysterical state by talking to him and assuring him of what was going on, where he was going, that we were almost there, offering him juice and helping to calm the situation, as much as for the other passengers as for him. She noticed his massive scar on his abdomen as I hoisted him up from under the seat, and she was filled with compassion, asking about his situation. She truly was a god-send and I will never forget her kindness. It was heart-wrenching to see how quickly she was able to calm him down just by being able to communicate with him with words he could understand, and it broke my heart that I cannot. Others who witnessed this exchange and his change in demeanor came over and commented how amazing it was- and it truly could bring the hard-hearted to tears.
Garrick, generally not this happy on his 16-hour flight.

Garrick, generally not this happy on his 16-hour flight.

By the time we got home, it was STILL my birthday- the longest one ever recorded. Awaiting our arrival was a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a birthday cake and cupcakes and a ready-made party for me from some of my friends at the homeschool co-op. They had also made an album of well-wishes for Carrigan and my mom had prepared a delicious meal and had the house in pristine condition. What a blessing it was to come home to!