Nanning shines bright and early on five sleepy travelers, running on only a few hours of sleep. Determined not to miss the hotel buffet breakfast, the perfect mixture of East meets West dining, we make it out of our room by 9:30. The meal does not disappoint. Ava’s favorite, dragon fruit, together with custard buns and red bean pastries, join filling heaps of bacon and eggs on all of our plates. A feast for the eyes and the senses. We are the only white folks in the dining area of this beautiful Marriott hotel, but we see Africans (in traditional dress), and a variety of Asian features. I shrink back a little from the stares that seem focused on comparing our skin color to that of Ava’s. We are noticed and noted as her parents, a few whispered comments are exchanged. I remember that it’s not personal, we simply surprise by our presence. Maybe they have stories to tell. I practice empathy.
Later on, a walk in the nearby park, horseplay on gymnastics equipment and a longer walk to discover a new and very kid friendly shopping mall is attached to our hotel. Score! We escape the muggy tropical heat of the outdoors and watch, fascinated, as masses of Chinese children explore the amusement park style mall. Ava is enamored and we hand in fifteen dollars worth of Yuan for tokens at a Chuck E Cheese style arcade with indecipherable games and directions. We play hard. David finds a driving game which inexplicably lets him continue re-driving the course round after round, endlessly. He plays until he is nauseas and dizzy. Meanwhile I throw tokens hand after fist into the steel claw machine attempting fruitlessly to catch a golden ram that has stolen my heart. Ava searches for games which yield highest ticket numbers.
Lunch is “crystal ice” at the “Smoothie House” a very Asian hipster San Francisco-style eatery filled with stacks of books in multiple languages. Naomi experiences sweet success as she orders in Mandarin and is understood – high school language classes paying off. The ice cream looks like snowflakes and is surrounded by mounds of fresh fruit. It helps cut the humid heat which we sweat through on an outdoor patio.
Tummies full, we wander “home” for naps which extend and extend until I realize how late it has gotten and become the wake-up natzi, forcing my children and husband onto their feet. It is is now 2 am our time, but 5 pm local time. We feel we will die from the sheer effort of being vertical so we determine to walk twenty minutes to another shopping area we have been told is a must-see. This turns out to be miserable to do while in a sleep-induced haze, but the crazy moped swarms do keep us awake.
The mall is high end and enormous with Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana joining more local boutique chains like Banana Baby. We follow Quinn in his usual quest, to go all the way to the top of the building and take the lay of the land before choosing a path down. His feet have grown overnight and are suddenly blistering because his shoes are too small so we happily discover a Nike shoe store where we pay a rather exorbitant sum for a very good pair of kicks. We abandon his old ones, worn and useless. Walking past shoppers dressed to kill, we search for cool spots where the AC seems to work better, and do ur best to avoid areas that smell strongly of sewage. I marvel at a mall so expensive that cannot maintain a comfortable smell or temperature.
Home again through the darkening dusk with the huge buildings lighting up all around us. There is nothing quiet or calming about this Asian city at night. It is an instant overload for the senses. Halfway back we find an elderly man lying in a pool of blood outside of the latrines, apparently the victim of a simple fall. A policeman squats beside him urging him to get up while the man swipes at the pain on his head and seems surprised to find his hand covered in blood. No 911 here? We wonder how we can help but come up empty so we continue on to the lighted, undulating fountains surrounded by dancing children.
Dinner is dumplings in the hotel room and is followed by phone calls from one room to the other, screaming rounds of play, and lots of cuddles in various beds. Now we’re all wide awake, of course. Our guide for tomorrow calls to check in, and we take in the news that we will leave our hotel to meet our new son at 2 pm. All day we have tried to face this reality with reminders to each other that this is our last full day as a family of five. But still, it refuses to sink it and after this phone call we rather numbly assess our hoard of toys for the perfect things to bring to meet him. Something comforting and fun that will keep his hands busy but not overwhelm him. Suddenly the lion I have chosen feels to “little kid” and nothing seems quite right. I breath deep. It will all be okay.
Showers, stories, tucking into bed and I leave the room I hear Ava quietly in her corner bed speaking to her bear. “Tomorrow we gonna go see Yun”, she says. “You gonna love him.” And I smile as I turn out the lights. Five tonight; six tomorrow. This is how you become family, slowly by slowly, then suddenly, all at once.
Ready or not, here comes Yun.