Monday, November 21, 2011

At Last!

Thursday night we and the Reickards went out to The Paddy Field, an Irish pub a block or so from our hotel, and enjoyed some good food. We then braved the treacherous streets (a couple of us almost got hit by a huge bus careening around a curve) and meandered through the walkways of a huge indoor mall replete with the really snobby kind of stores – the ones where they have about 15 items for sale, each with their own 5 foot shelf – and made it to a Haagen Dazs ice cream store that Chad Reickard (the dad) had discovered a few days ago and had made a mental note to return to on the last night in Guangzhou. We stopped to look at the ice cream flavors and were about to order when a lady from the store gestured for us to be seated in the back of the restaurant. Apparently you don't just order ice cream in China and then sit down – you sit down first, look at a menu (which of course has all the flavors available on a page, complete with pictures of a scoop of ice cream of each flavor), order your ice cream, and the waitress brings it to you. Somehow it reminded me a of a Denny's, though they had a much more limited menu. (Okay, so it was nothing like a Denny's, it just reminded me of one in my homesickness). The ice cream was mighty refreshing, given the subjectively high temperatures that we have been experiencing during our entire visit. On our way back I briefly examined a Bentley taking up valuable space sitting near one of the doors of the snobby indoor mall. We arrived back at our hotel with no further mishaps and, other than a few minutes of complaining by Matthew, we went straight to sleep.

Friday was an extremely long day. We anxiously waited around in the hotel until check-out, around 2 PM. We headed on a hotel van with Elvin, our guide, to Guangzhou East train station, and he headed back to the U.S. Consulate for us and returned with Matthew's visa and the famous brown envelope – which may not be opened (upon pain of much weeping and wailing) until he reaches customs and immigration in the States. After waiting an interminable amount of time in one extremely hot waiting area, we hustled through a checkpoint (where a lady didn't bother to see the second train ticket I showed her for Sarah, then asked Sarah for her ticket) where we lugged our heavy baggage down a corridor and... into another extremely hot waiting room. Here we sat and waited... and sweated... and I tried to buy a bottle of orange GatorAde but found it to be slippery because of my hands being so sweaty and it fell and busted on the floor because of the cheap plastic making up the bottle (I ended up paying double, for the busted one and for an intact bottle, to keep the peace under the glares of many Chinese). Our train ended up being an hour late. We finally climbed on board and hoisted our heavy bags into the luggage racks above us, and sat for 2 hours as the train headed to Hong Kong. Once in Hong Kong we lugged our baggage through the train station and up an elevator into a large eating area at a McDonalds, where we obtained some food for our hungry families. Chad Reickard and I then headed outside the station to determine the best means of transporting all of us to our hotel, the SkyCity Marriott, about 23 miles away. We figured the best way to do it would be to get a couple of taxis, so we both obtained some money (in the form of Hong Kong Dollars) and informed our families. We then struggled once again to get our baggage downstairs and outside, and just as we were about to get in line to get a taxi a man came running up to us – Yu Chun Wah – and offered to take all of us together in his van. The cost was just a little over the price of two taxis but seemed well worth it, given that it allowed all of us to be together, so we took his offer and away we went. It was fun to see Hong Kong at night – as we sped through the city we caught glimpses of streets lit with neon and LED lights from every business and restaurant, the stereotypical image all of us have of Hong Kong. We also viewed the silhouettes of a series of huge cranes along the enormous Hong Kong harbor and enjoyed riding over a gigantic suspension bridge connecting the rest of Hong Kong to the island where the airport is located. We finally arrived at our hotel an hour later than we had planned. We checked in quickly and hurried to our rooms, almost delirious with fatigue and dehydration, the dim atmosphere and green checkered d├ęcor of the hotel hallways making us almost dizzy. I tried to gain access to the internet for one final blog post but, finding I would be charged for its usage, decided against it and instead collapsed with my family for a few hours of rest.

We awoke to our requested wake-up call at 7 AM. We headed downstairs to an expensive (but excellent) breakfast buffet, then gathered our belongings and took the hotel shuttle to the airport (it was so close we could see airplanes taking off through our hotel window). After an extended process of checking in at the airline counter and going through security and Hong Kong immigration, we hurried through the huge Hong Kong airport, down escalators, down long hallways, onto a train, and back up escalators again to find our gate, where we barely made it in time... to wait, again. We were singled out to have our carry-on bags inspected and one of the officials (maybe it was his first day on the job?) had the audacity to insist that we could not carry some bottles of water on board that we had JUST BOUGHT AT A STORE RIGHT NEXT TO OUR GATE. Given that both Sarah and myself were completely soaked from head to toe with sweat in the sweltering heat of the airport (and everywhere else we have been for the past two and a half weeks), we quickly insisted that there was no reason for us to give up the precious liquids, and thankfully the man's supervisor agreed with us. So we boarded our plane (a Boeing 747, the first either of us have ever flown in) and sat down to prepare for takeoff. And we waited... again.

We waited. And waited. And waited some more. There was some sort of glitch, the pilot told us, in the fuel gauge device and he wanted to make sure it was not malfunctioning. Two hours later we were finally off the ground and headed to Chicago.

The flight from Hong Kong to Chicago itself was rather uneventful, with only a minor amount of turbulence and minimal complaints from Matthew, who sat in his chair and slept, laughed and played most of the way – with an occasional cry here and there. However, the experience at the Chicago airport was a different matter entirely. Our connecting flight to Nashville in Chicago was scheduled for three hours after our arrival; however, since we had the two-hour delay in Hong Kong we had only one hour before our flight took off. This hour was quickly consumed by us going through the confusing maze of immigration and customs in the busy Chicago airport. The next flight out of Chicago with United was not for another 6 hours, so we had the teller book us tickets with American Airlines instead. Exhausted as we were, we went through security again and grabbed a yogurt and an apple juice, thinking we had a bit of time before our connecting flight. We barely heard a voice in the air stating “last call” for what – we thought – was our new connecting flight, and when we checked, sure enough, our plane had already boarded and was ready to take off! We hurled ourselves on board and sat in the last row of seats – our ticketed seats were not all together, but there were three seats, two on one side and one on the other, that were available to us to sit as a family and... enjoy our last ride together to FINALLY... BRING MATTHEW HOME.

In Nashville we were greeted with a loud cheer as we approached the security entrance, Matthew in Sarah's arms. Many of our family and friends had come to share in the moment of his arrival. Thomas ran headlong into my arms as soon as he saw me, and I hugged him for a long tine, tears of joy coursing down my cheeks as I embraced my older son. We greeted the people who had come and let them enjoy Matthew with us, then obtained our luggage (I waited for it to arrive on a different flight from United since we had re-checked our luggage with that airline even though we ourselves traveled on American) and headed home. We enjoyed the presence of extended family on Saturday night with an amazing meal Sarah's parents prepared for us, and Sunday we enjoyed breakfast with them as well. During the day Sunday we had our first glimpse of Matthew's interactions with his new family members and knew without a doubt that God had prepared his little heart for our family. Our tired hearts thank the Lord for this experience and thank Him also for bringing us... HOME.

Joe

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