China Day 10: Shamien Island

Sunday, and it’s a totally free day – no appointments whatsoever. We “sleep in” till 7 and head downstairs for a lazy breakfast. Then we’re off as family in the taxi for the first time. Qiao Qiao and I are the old pro’s at taxi us after our trips to the clinic, so we teach the others the ropes. We’re headed to Shamien Island, an old enclave for the expats in the city during the dangerous days after the Opium Wars. Nowadays it’s open to anyone, but back then it was a safe haven where foreigners could live in relative peace and safety from harm. It’s a tourist destination and a local weekend hang out with lots of beautiful grassy walkways, colonial buildings, and statues as well as restaurants and shopping.

Qiao Qiao takes about one million blurry pictures, along with some pretty great ones, using our camera phones and camera. Note to self: remember to bring the hand-me-down digital camera we have gifted her on our day trip tomorrow! It’s fun, though, to have her constantly pose us, snapping our picture. And to see what interests her enough to be picture-worthy. Some day, these pictures will be such great reminders of her nine year old self, of this transition into family, and of her country.

We meet us with new friends, Susan and Aaron, who adopted Madeline with us in Nanning. It’s great to spend time just walking and talking, doing normal friend stuff. We find what we have heard is a great Dim Sum place and after a long wait with interesting views of fascinating fish, snakes and eels for sale in aquariums in the lobby, we are seated. Unfortunately it turns out it is not a Dim Sum place at all, but we nevertheless order. Or rather, we trust Aaron to order for us. They are from New York City and Susan, his wife, is Cantonese. So we let them take us on a culinary adventure. Quinn is delighted: a fellow foodie!

We end up with some Gung Bao Ji Ding (shoutout to the Blank family!!), pigeon, jellyfish, curried potatoes and, by mistake a plateful of a conch dish. Turns out another family had ordered it and we received it by mistake. It was my first time to eat snail. It WAS delicious but the thought of eating snail is, well, disgusting.

Dinner under our belts (literally), we spend another hour or two walking around Shamien. Bridal couples are everywhere, posing for pictures, and we sneak in some shots of them as well. Quinn buys a local hackey sack equivalent, made with recycled plasttic and feathers and the boys play hackey as we walk, Chinese men joining in to the delight of onlookers.

Before we leave we stop at an uber touristy shop and ask the local artist to create a wall hanging with Qiao Qiao’s name, on our short list of things to buy in China. This is one of those tourist things we never do, but it feels sacred and important to do it now, for Qiao Qiao. We ask her to write her name in Mandarin and she does, then we remind the artist to leave her old surname off and he writes the beautiful characters for Jing Qiao on a piece of heavy paper. At the top he adds, in very small letters, her English name. And at the bottom, again small, her new last name. On the side he write in Mandarin characters, the day we met each other. It is a perfect souvenir of this time in our lives.
Tired from sun and wind and too much pigeon and pork belly, we flag a taxi and head back to the hotel and to brief naps, then card games, more jumping on the bed, beach ball play and a dinner of sandwiches in the hotel room. Laughter and more laughter as David and Qiao engage in a very competitive round of “go fish” with regular playing cards, all in Mandarin. Qiao Qiao is a very clever cheater. She can play quite a good game fairly but she seriously enjoys teasing David. There are peals and peals of laughter, shouts of e, er, san, etc. and the slapping of cards on the table. Then off to bath and bed, where we read her three favorite books again.

Somehow, there are, once again, three children in the adjoining bedroom. Three pairs of feet sticking out from under the covers, three softly snoring mouths.

Sleep comes quickly.

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