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| Surprises All Around

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Surprises All Around

This girl loves life.

I have loved seeing the positive effect this trip has had on Chaela. We were concerned about bringing her back so soon knowing it would open wounds that were just beginning to scab over. It seems to be having a healing transformation on her heart, and she and I have grown closer in our mother-daughter relationship being here together, in her home country, now that she knows what it on the other side, and that it’s good. She’s embraced both her life here and her life back home, and she is visibly joyful being here, speaking her native tongue, remembering the tastes, places and people of her origin. She is more comfortable with us than she’s ever been, and us with her, and she is truly unrecognizable from the girl we had here with us just over a year ago. This morning at breakfast she said to me, “Oh, Mom, I forgot to tell you! You’re gonna love this- it’s so good! Chad said that on the day we met him, the other mom who was there adopting…he said that he thinks you are way prettier than her!” Oh how I love this boy already! I find myself staring at him, just as I do each time I bring a new baby home from the hospital. He is so beautiful, and it’s just hard to believe that he is mine!

Seems legit.

It’s fun to watch Chad experience so many “firsts”. He had his first taste of an American favorite at Pizza Hut for dinner. He prefers very spicy food, so he wasn’t thrilled with it (he said it tastes like milk), and I’ll definitely need to be stocking up on spicy condiments to make things edible for him when we get home. His first attempt at eating a hamburger was entertaining, to say the least. He piled some fries on top of the burger, squirted ketchup all over the condiments on the side (and left them on the side) and then hesitated on how to go about eating it. He watched what Corin did and tried to imitate, but soon was easily frustrated as it was starting to fall apart. He took off the top bun and got his knife and fork to start cutting it up, proceeding to cut and eat the bun separately. None of us wanted to be the one to correct him and embarrass him about it, but Chaela was giving me the eye like, “Mom, look at what he’s doing!” Finally, she could take it no longer and rattled off some rapid-fire Chinese at him, put his burger back together the proper way and cut it in half for him. Thankfully, he laughed, too, and he has now learned how to eat a burger the American way.

His environment has been very limited, so he’s doing things like elevators, escalators, and moving walkways at the airport for the first time. Not to mention the plane ride itself. He is calling us “Ma” and “Dad” and interchanges Chaela’s Chinese name with her new American name (he says “Shaw-Luh”). Our family prayer time at meals and bedtime is really weird for him, but he follows along with the Chinese version of the Lord’s Prayer and the bilingual Bible we brought. He is so thoughtful and considerate, it is quite humbling. He holds doors and takes my trash away when I’m done with anything, he makes sure to carry whatever I am holding, he looks for ways to help and serve others- just like Chaela. As a mother, it puts me to shame seeing how two children who lived their entire lives in an orphanage setting display more courteous manners and consideration of others than my biological children often do, and I have tried to teach these concepts to them for years. I realize that Chad and Chaela are exceptional, in a very literal sense. They are not typical for an older child coming out of an orphanage. I often read of families who struggle these early days with their new child acting like an animal, treating the adoptive parents horribly out of fear and trauma, and having atrocious table manners and behavior. Our experience has been that our older adopted children have displayed the grace and respect for their elders that was more common “back in the day” in traditional Chinese culture. Our guide, Susan, thought they were remarkable and she said she wished her own son was half as “good” as they were- nowadays you see more spoiled brats in China as a result of the one child policy producing kids who are given whatever they want by the parents and two sets of grandparents. I attribute their upbringing to this director, and the more rural setting they were raised around, away from the electronic dominating culture that most youth are entrenched in today (that is why the cell phone was so shocking to us- so thankful that is gone!). Chad is quite a neat-freak, as well. He’s scolded Corin on more than one occasion for leaving his socks on the floor, has been caught scrubbing the bathroom sink, washing his clothes and hanging them to dry, and looking for things to pick up and straighten to tidy the room. This could work out quite well for me, however, I am remembering Chaela used to do some of these things, too. Now, she tends to throw her clothes on the floor at home just as she’s seen the others do. I really must find a way to continually reinforce this behavior and have him teach it to the others!

While his discipline is solid, his style needs work.

We’ve had several outings that I haven’t had the time to record in detail, so I will mostly allow the pictures to tell the story, but one bizarre encounter you must see a video about is worth mentioning. Before leaving Kunming, we visited the “Minority Village” living history museum of China’s most diverse province that we enjoyed on our last trip. We stumbled upon an elephant show that we would not have paid extra to see, but it was as intriguing as it was sad.

Our own dragon boat festival.

Weaving, old school.

As suspected, it’s good to be white.

Corin with the reverse photobomb.

Minority village “tomb” tower and “Sleeping Beauty cliffs” behind some beautiful people.

Chaela looking like a hair model. Oh yeah, the rest of us are in this, too.

I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me, Papa-Paparazzi

Trying and failing to avoid disrespect of the Buddhist temple while looking cool.


No idea why stepping down makes this attraction genuine, but, apparently, it does.


Elephants and riders. Pretty tame so far, but interesting…

A painting largely constructed by an elephant…

…while others spun hula hoops or played a harmonica!

Random audience members get to ride on elephant trunks!

Riders could even sit under elephants sitting like humans.

For ten RMB, you could feed an elephant a bunch of bananas while they carried some dudes around.

Finally, we observed elephants involved in human sexual harassment…

20170621_111045 from Joey Odell on Vimeo.

We’ve continued to bring our Uno deck to almost every restaurant we’ve gone, and have added to our repertoire this trip Yahtzee, as well. It is such a different experience this time around having Chaela as a built-in translator, so we never have a total block of communication as we did when we adopted Chaela last year. She bridges that awkward gap, and Chad is never without someone to talk to. She can also explain more complicated games to him, so we aren’t stuck with only Uno like last time. He has generally been much happier than Chaela was in-country, though he does not want to communicate directly with us through the google translate. He used a lot of hand motions and gestures with us, and the few English phrases he knows, his favorites being his “Oh my gosh!” imitation of me, “thank you much”, “it’s okay”, and “I don know”. He continues to flash his winning smile every time we make eye contact, and he is just an amazingly respectful and polite gentleman. He refuses to let us buy things for him or let him go first for anything, and at meal times he won’t take seconds of communal dishes until everyone else is finished. We’ve discovered that the game “telephone” is a lot of fun to play in both languages while waiting for meals to come at restaurants when we’ve left Uno behind. It shows Chad how well we can butcher his language, too, and hopefully helps him to be less afraid to try to learn and use some English with us.

Dutch Blitz at the airport.


We spent the morning at Shaiman Island, a touristy European-style shopping and dining area we’ve enjoyed each trip where there is also a government-run church that seems to be more of a spectator event than worship service. Since we were there on a Sunday, we decided to sit in on a service so that Chad could see that church is not just an American thing, but extends to every country and culture. The sermon was long and I had to step out with the baby, but the gist of the service was similar to many church sermons heard in the US: God will help fix your problems if you just try really hard. There was no gospel-centered message including Christ and the cross, repentance and reconciliation with the Father through faith in Christ’s atoning blood. Chad has been told repeatedly by various guides and those wishing him farewell to “study hard and go to the university so you can make lots of money”, as if this is life’s highest calling. Instead, from us he will hear that life’s purpose is “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) The culture both here and at home is more in line with the well-wishers, but I’d say he already has the kindness part down-pat.

Classic Shamian Island pic

Chinese Cinderella even showed up for us.

Each day we’ve seen more of Chad’s personality emerge, and we become more endeared to this great kid. As we were shopping on the island, I knew exactly what I had come into the store for- Chinese dresses for the Chaela and Gwennie, and traditional Chinese outfits for both big boys, shoes to go with Gwennie’s, and a bigger pair of Chinese flats for Charlotte whose feet have finally grown out of a size 8 toddler now that she is almost 7 years old. Shopping in China is not an enjoyable experience. You are followed around with things being shoved at you, the prices are inflated for the “rich foreigners”, and then you proceed to do an awkward game of bartering. I had the items set out that I knew I wanted (first mistake) and they knew I was going to buy them- I came in with a plan and it showed. They gave me a ridiculously high price for the items, crossed it out, and wrote down a slightly lower price, saying they “give discount”. They also told me that I look 25 and was “very beautiful”, so that contributed to the settling of the prices much quicker- they paid me with compliments. Chad was shaking his head in disgust the entire time we were bartering, and saying, “Ma, no no no no no no!” Poor kid, he was visibly stressed as we were being fleeced, but I just wanted to get out of there and be done. We settled on a price that I knew was too high, but at that point I was just paying to leave and put poor Chad out of his misery. Even Chaela was shaking her head as we walked out of the store, knowing the gullible white folk who are her parents just got one pulled over on them. (if you’re curious, we spent about $60 USD for all of it, which in America doesn’t sound like a ton for 4 outfits and 2 shoes, but for here it’s way too much). The bargain shopper in me is grieving, but I have to cut my losses and move on.

5 Goat Monument in Guangzhou.

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