Who Knows What Tomorrow Brings…

Around this time of year, I can’t help but be reflective of where I am and who I have in my life. During the year, the grind does not always afford me the chance to think about these things although I try to make it a point to be thankful everyday for being alive and having a healthy and happy family.

These days, I think about my two little girls, Kara and Sophie, often. I think about what each is doing every day, what new discoveries (good or bad) they are making, and that they are safe and happy. I take nothing for granted and understand full well that each day I leave my house and say good-bye to my wife and my two girls that it could potentially be my last or their last. It sounds depressing and harsh, but it is what drives me to be who I am to them and for them.

It is my desire that every moment I share as their parent is a moment that will shape them as individuals. Even if I drop off the face of the earth tomorrow, each will understand and will have experienced unconditional love and happiness. No moment is wasted or dismissed.

As parents, our children are our prized possessions. They are an extension of us and embody who we are. Knowing full well the power and ability we have to shape and mold them, does it not make sense to focus intently on them like they are our most important project, to invest in and build them up at every opportunity, and to cherish every smile, laugh, or tear?

I often think about where Kara and Sophie come from. Their chance for survival and thriving being lower without Ali and my entrance into their lives. I think they are in a good place. Hell, I KNOW they are in good place, not just because of the resources they now have access to, but because they have two loving parents that think the world of them… as they are the world to us.

I’m Tired…

I’m tired… not because of all the traveling I have been doing for work, nor being a father to two young girls. I am also not tired from having to do hours upon hours of homework and assignments for my MBA. Nor am I tired of doing all the extra curricular things I sign myself up for, such as managing my company’s softball team and using every free moment to spend time with the people I care about most, my friends and family.

What I am tired of is dealing with people, particularly certain individuals who just don’t get me. With everything I have going on, it is impossible for me to spend and devote an endless amount of time to one person. It sounds shitty, but it includes my own family. And I feel bad about it.

This leads me to the point I will make about these certain individuals who simply don’t get me.

Let me first preface this by saying I am not an expert on how to live one’s life, but I can speak on managing multiple matters that spring up in the course of daily living. These matters, as we all know, will linger and have to be dealt with. There’s not the luxury of setting them aside and expecting that they will go away because they won’t. In many instances, these matters just get worst… sort of like putting off paying your credit card bills.

I will also state that I am reliable and can be counted on to assist others when they are in need of help. And if I can’t help, I will do you well and let you know right away. And believe it or not, despite all I have going on, I am still managing to fulfill my support duties to family and friends.

With the limited time I have though, I have to operate efficiently and quick. There is no “beating around the bush.” When an issue comes up, I think about it and address it. This process happens quick. I will also say that I am not always right, but I do not recall a time when my decision has failed me nor the person I am trying to help.

Those closest to me understand that when issues, no matter how dire or serious, come up, I will spring into action. They know that they can literally count their lives and the lives of their loved ones on me if the moment calls for it. It is an expectation that they should feel comfortable having of me and I of them as that is how highly I value our relationships.

This leads me to the individuals who do not get me. These individuals can’t stand the fact that when I am involved in a matter, their opinions often get pushed aside… and rightfully so, because their opinions or solutions only benefit themselves. If these individuals can provide insight that extends beyond the boundaries of their selfish wants and needs, they may be delighted to know that I will support them even it I disagree with them.

There is a popular saying, “Everyone has an opinion…” While that saying is true, I live long enough to know that not everyone’s opinion matters.

Simply put, those who are in my life who insist on always having their selfish ideas heard will be purged. They provide zero contributions and opportunities to my overall growth and betterment. Getting through to them is an endless exercise that results in only more aggravation and frustration… for me. To those individuals, I’d like to tell them that they are more than welcomed to continue living within the confines of their self-serving existence. But do me and the world a favor. Please keep it to yourself. Hey, let me be selfish and simply say, “stay away from me.”

My ‘Other’ Job

People often asks me what I do for a living. Besides being father to these two little girls, I do have another job. While I may be wrong to admit it, it is a job I enjoy immensely, sometimes more than being a parent.

As the Business Development Manager for my company, I am charged with managing a network of agents throughout the U.S. At times, I am afforded the opportunity to attend business lunches and dinners or even play a round of golf. If you were to only consider those times, most anyone would see consider my job more play than work.

However, there are instances when I have ‘uncomfortable’ conversations, situations where I have to maintain a hard-lined stance and deliver a message that isn’t positive. Those are the times I dread the most. Nonetheless, I do the job and accept it as my role.

In addition to managing this agent network, I work closely with the Marketing department to devise new campaigns and initiatives to support sales. While it is a struggle at times to get Marketing and Sales to move in the same direction with a targeted message and strategy, I enjoy the challenge.

More than anything else about my job, I enjoy the people I work with and support. One thing I think is missing when most people talk about their jobs is caring about the people you work with. These days, we over-emphasize return and profit. If you’re not making a profit or even doing better than you did the year or the quarter before, you’re not doing something right. Stripped from business dealings is empathy for the person you’re working with and for. In many instances, people are prematurely and quickly dismissed because they are viewed as just a number.

Believe me when I say I’m not for wasting time and resources on a lost cause. However, I care and take it personal when one of my agents succeeds or fails. I consider it a team achievement when a person on my team is recognized for the work he or she is doing. The same concept applies when one of us fails to complete a specific task or deliverable.

As I approach 40, I am thinking long-term about my career. Will my current job be my last job before retirement? I’m not sure… but as long as I continue to enjoy the people I work with and for, I don’t see why not.

I guess the reason for this post is because I feel lately that my life is locked into this repetitive state: work and kids, work and kids…  The kids I can’t do anything about. I’m stuck with them. Work is an aspect of my life I can control. And I find it to be a healthy exercise from time to time to be reminded that I am getting satisfaction and fulfillment from my job.

My 2014 Travels

I probably spent the most time I’ve ever spent away from home in 2014.

Here’s to making a list so I don’t forget one day:

  • St. Louis, Missouri – I will always remember this trip as the trip that started off terribly. Lost my wedding ring somewhere between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. Nonetheless, my favorite part of St. Louis was talking to the people. Despite the harsh conditions in February (snow, cold temps), and the local economy struggling, I was greeted with smiles and kindness from locals.
  • Columbia, South Carolina – Main strip was small, but charming… Southern hospitality at its finest. I will always remember Bourbon, the bourbon bar/restaurant I frequented while I was there. My waiter/server (Ashley, if I recall) provided great service. I don’t know what is the state of their economy, but the mall I visited only had 4 stores open.
  • Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona – I timed my business trip to Arizona with Spring Training. Getting to sit right behind the A’s manager and coaches and be three feet away from the players is surreal. Although there are parts of Phoenix and Scottsdale that are lively, I have to say that the desert has little appeal to me. The giant dust storm that rolled by was quite scary as well.
  • Newark, New Jersey – Drove through Newark and was thankful my car did not break down. There were homes that lined multiple streets long that looked empty and abandon. Pretty spooky. But I also had a chance to drive to Short Hills and get a glimpse of the beauty of an east coast winter.
  • New York (Manhattan), New York – Love the energy and the hustle and bustle of this city. Had a chance to walk from upper mid-town to Times Square and dine at the University Club. Late night bar hopping and pizza with my agents in the Lower East Side. I’ve never drank more in one day in my entire life.
  • Miami, Florida – Now I know why LeBron went down to South Beach. The place is absolutely stunning, even in April. Walking on the beach and laying out in the sun made me realize there is another alternative to Hawaii. However, unlike the sweet nature of Hawaiians, Miami folks make no bones about money and looks. It’s a must have.
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Just a few miles away from Miami, you get a slightly different vibe. Sure, there is Las Olas Boulevard, where the pretty people come out and play, but I also get the sense the outrageousness is toned down in Fort Lauderdale. And nothing like a watching a lightning show on the beach at night in September. Might not have been the brightest thing to do.
  • Chicago, Illinois – Another city I fell in love with. Chicago in July is beautiful. While I was there, I had a chance to check out a food festival, fireworks at the pier, and a guided ferry tour of Chicago’s architecture. The Magnificent Mile is a shopper’s dream. Definitely need to make it a point to visit this city again.

My Hopes for Kara and Sophie

Every parent has hopes for their children. Many want their kids to do ‘amazing’ things one day. I’ve found the term, ‘amazing,’ as it relates to children, is often tied to the following three things: money, status, and outrageousness… like be a doctor or a CEO of a company or the next Michael Jordan.

Then there is the other group of parents who just want their kids to be ‘happy.’ I think I fall under this group.

If you were to ask me what I want Kara and Sophie to be one day, I wouldn’t be able to tell you except I’d want the both of them to be happy individuals. It sounds somewhat lame, like I’m copping out of the question. But I honestly don’t know. What I do know is this…

I’ve come across my fair share of people, both good and bad, who’ve influenced me to be the person I’ve become today.

So here’s my list of hopes for both Kara and Sophie:

  1. Be generous – There are many deserving people in this world. I want both girls to treat others in need or not in need with compassion and generosity with an open heart. When it comes to money, they need to understand that money is not the key to happiness, but a byproduct of hard work. Use it. Enjoy it. Most importantly, don’t let it control and influence you. And don’t let money suppress or alter the core of who you are. When it comes to relationships, give those who are most deserving the most precious gift of all: time.
  2. Be smart – Both girls don’t need to have a 200 IQ. But they need to know that there are plenty of opportunists and get rich schemes out there in the world. The only people getting rich from these schemes are the ones that have naive and foolish individuals working for them. I hope both girls understand there are two, and only two, types of people in this world: those who truly help and enhance your life and those who hurt and take advantage of others. I hope my girls can recognize the difference quickly each time they open and share their lives with others.
  3. Be honest – The truth often hurts. But it is important that both girls understand they need to be stand-up individuals. Credibility and trust is hard to establish and gain, but even harder or sometimes impossible to reestablish once it is questioned or broken. A lie, no matter how little or indirect, hurts relationships and people.
  4. Be engaging – You might be asking, ‘What?!’ I can only say that I’ve come across individuals who literally have nothing to say. They don’t inquire about others because they are scared to be judged or simply do not care what others think of them. Both Kara and Sophie don’t need to be the most compelling people on the planet. And contrary to what others may say, people should and need to care what others think about them. It fosters self-esteem and compassion. The best way is to be genuine. Share who you are and inquire about others.

I think it’s a start, wouldn’t you say?

Slowly Coming Along

We’ve been home for a little over a week now. Admittedly, I have not been in the best frame of mind. For much of the time, I’ve voiced my displeasure about this kid to anyone who would listen. My failure to connect with this new addition to our family has troubled Ali and those closest to us.

People who’ve known me longest know that I often wear my emotions on my sleeves. And when I am forced to conceal my feelings, it eventually boils over and erupts like an overdue volcano.

Last night, Ali shared that I’ve been making the process difficult and that it’s time I get my head straight and fix the issue. As we talked, I finally let out everything that’s been occupying my mind and hindering my relationship with Sophie.

I shared that it’s been a long time since I’ve had time to relax and be happy. With everything that’s gone on the last half of 2014, I’ve been on ‘fix-it mode.’ All the way up to the trip, I was dealing with getting the car repaired and last-minute trip logistics. When Sophie was handed to us, I, admittedly, was unprepared for a child that was more baby than youngster.

My first intuition was to ‘fix it.’ Unfortunately, I tend to go straight to the source of the fire and douse it with 100 gallons of water.

It wasn’t until having that talk with Ali that I recognized my approach was wrong for a two year old.

Today I woke up with a new perspective. Today was also the first day I was truly happy being Sophie’s father.

I watched our newest, little girl wake up this morning and greet me with a smile before crying for her bottle of milk. As she drank, I lied down with her and saw my daughter looking back at me with smiling eyes. Only this time, her eyes never left me. Usually, she looks at me for a second and looks away immediately as soon as I establish eye contact.

I don’t know what it is but I was drawn in by her gaze. For the brief minute or two, the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders, and all I thought about was how I was going to spend the day making her smile. And for a moment, I felt terrible for how I’ve handled the first weeks of being her father.

I often tell Ali that I firmly believe people can sense the energy of others. All this time, I was definitely giving off negative vibes to Sophie. Today, however, I think she sensed there was something different about that man with the hairy rat around his mouth. She did not put up a fuss when I carried her for much of the day nor did she cry or seek out her mommy when it was play time.

I always knew that there will eventually be a moment when it would all come together. However, I thought it would be a profound moment, like if Sophie was sick or hurt, that I would spring into action. Never would I have thought that I simply needed to ‘let go’ of the outside noise and focus on the moment and the little person in front of me.

One Step Closer to Home – Hong Kong

Unfortunately, I was not able to post about Hong Kong until now as the hotel we were staying in only allowed access to wifi for two machines. Wanting to ensure my group had all the luxuries and amenities (including wifi) available to them, I offered to go without internet access for the duration of my time in Hong Kong.

Before I show the Hong Kong highlights, there was the matter of getting there.

Prior to
leaving Guangzhou, we had to get Sophie her visa and Hague Adoption Certificate from the American Consulate. Our guide, Elvin, picked us up at 2:45 p.m. and sent us via The Garden shuttle to the train station. He then went to the consulate, picked up our documents, ran to the subway, and intercepted us at the train terminal. Poor guy was sweating, but he made it in time before our departure time of 5:30 p.m.

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Of all the China tour guides I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, Elvin is probably the most hilarious. He is sharp and witty, and made our time in Guangzhou fly by.

After a two hour train ride from Guangzhou to Kowloon, we braved the masses (apparently, there was a Sammi Cheng concert the evening we arrived. I’d compare her to Hong Kong’s Madonna after the death of Anita Mui, the original Hong Kong version of Madonna), got on two taxis to get to the Hong Kong side, specifically Causeway Bay.

We arrived at the Regal Hong Kong Hotel around 9 p.m. and got the kids settled in.

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The Regal was prepping for a New Year’s Eve dinner and celebration.

Excited we were in Hong Kong, the first order of business was to look for an evening snack as Hong Kong was pretty much known for two things: shopping and eating. To our delight, we found that the hotel is connected to Din Tai Fung, a popular dumpling restaurant.

Here we are helping this Michelin Star restaurant close down:

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Cooks making the yummy dumplings

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Ali with her pops, Grant

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Ali’s stepmon, Pam, and me

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Spicy Wonton

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Red Bean Paste wrapped in Dumpling Dough

The next morning, the gang went out for a traditional Hong Kong breakfast.

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Instant Noodle with Spam and Egg and a Milk Tea (not pictured) for me. Macaroni and Ham with Egg and Toast and an Ovaltine for the beast.

The day became better when we had a babysitter in Grant and Pam for Sophie. This allowed us to spend a special day with Kara at Tsim Tsa Tsui. Kara got to ride the Star Ferry from Central Pier.

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When we arrived at Tsim Tsa Tsui, we were pleased to see they still had their Christmas directions up. I don’t know if this picture does it any justice, but this train leading to the indoor mall was spectacular.

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And of course, we did a little window shopping.
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Going back to Causeway Bay, we braved the MTR (Hong Kong subway). Surprisingly it was quite efficient and clean. It actually reminded me a little of the Paris Metro.

The rest of the afternoon, I searched for a restaurant that could house the 7 of us for a nice New Year’s Eve dinner. Rose, Ali’s mom, wanted to take all of us out to celebrate the new addition to our family and this special moment to cap off 2014.

After an exhaustive search, we settled for a nice restaurant that was on top of Din Tai Fung. And like their downstair neighbor, this restaurant did not disappoint.

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After dinner, Ali and I snuck out and explored the town. Tons of young people gathered around Times Square and throughout Causeway Bay.

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Because I have a dirty mind, I thought these girls were offering up something else. Apparently, they were sharing details about a new restaurant opening up.

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These girls, on the other hand, were offering ‘Free Hugs.’

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Despite buying Ali ice cream from a mobile ice cream truck, I did not get the okay to approach either group of women. 😉

We walked till 11 p.m. but could not make it to New Year’s as the entire trip had finally caught up to us. That and the fact that we had to pack and fly home the next day!

 

Photos from The Garden Hotel

The last thing I want is for anyone to think my last post epitomizes this entire trip and experience. I, along with Ali, Kara, and Sophie have had quality time together as a family.

Here are some pictures of us this afternoon enjoying the garden at The Garden.

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Besides getting mesmerized by the koi, we enjoyed yummy dim sum at Sunloft.

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As you can see, both of these girls can eat. Fortunately for them, their mom and dad enjoy food just as much!

Our Last Night in Guangzhou

I’m tired. Tomorrow, we leave Guangzhou and get on a train for Hong Kong to spend two days before heading back to the Bay Area.

Right now, being home has never looked more appealing. As much as I enjoy Guangzhou, I think getting home and establishing a routine for Sophie will not only be good for her, but for me (particularly my state of mind).

Ali and I conversed briefly this morning about how this experience compared to our time in Shanghai three years ago. I acknowledged that I am having a harder time relating to this girl compared to Kara. The incessant crying drives me crazy. Ali alluded that I’ve never really enjoyed being around babies, an observation that I have to settle for now to be true. I’ve shared many times during this trip that I can’t wait for next Christmas when Sophie will be a year older.

Ali’s mom keeps telling me to enjoy this stage, the “Terrible Two’s,” as it is a special time. She thinks I will look back one day and remember the positives more than the negatives. At the moment, I honestly want Sophie to get past this stage… the faster, the better.

I look at Ali, who has been carrying most of the load, and worry how well she is going to hold up. She’s been fantastic and has bonded well to this little girl. But I can tell Ali is tired as well.

Usually, I’m the one who stays cool during stressful times. But lately, I’m at an impasse. Perhaps adjusting to being a father of two and dealing with everything else that has happened the last few months (buying a home, moving, selling a home, adapting to a new morning routine with Kara, dealing with my aunt’s death, having to deal with a hit and run just two days before our trip, handling the adoption paperwork and logistics, and planning this trip) has worn my patience down. I’ve noticed I’m snappy now. And I’m no longer as tolerant of others as I’ve been in the past.

Sadly, this little girl is part of the issue and she is in the path of my irritability. I’ve noticed that I’ve been harsh to her when I should be nurturing, and that’s not right.

Simply put, I need to step up even more and do better.

Sophie!

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Tomorrow, we have a date at the American Consulate. But tonight, we party!

Multiple weddings going on at the Garden Hotel tonight. I guess the Chinese have a love for numerology. For those that don’t know, 12.28 sounds like ‘easy wealth’ in Cantonese.

Back to the Garden!

Saturday was our travel day. It was a big day for Sophie because she gets to leave our Tianfu Sunshine hotel room, a place she despised. It was also the day Sophie leaves Sichuan.

Like Kara, Sophie could sense there were big changes ahead. Kara cried on our last day at Guangzhou three years ago.

At the airport, Sophie became inconsolable again. At one point, she even took a swipe at Ali as Ali tried to soothe her. I immediately barked at her, at which time, she immediately stopped. It might not be the best way to handle it, but I’m a believer that even at 20 months old, a child can recognize right from wrong.

All this happened while we checked in and walked to our gate. We were concerned. We still had a two-hour flight ahead.

Amazingly, Sophie handled the flight like a champ. In fact, she provided our in-flight entertainment! The entire way from Chengdu to Guangzhou, she was awake and alert. She grabbed everything in sight and kept herself and us busy by throwing it on the floor. She also showcased her pinching skills (perhaps something she picked up at the orphanage) by pretending to grab an item with her two fingers out of one our hands and placing it in another person’s hand. We were just relieved that there wasn’t a single tear or wail from her.

Upon arrival, we synced up with another family. The Perez family from Houston was with us the entire time. May, who happens to also reside in San Mateo and is adopting (an 18-month old boy) from Chengdu, joined us with her sister, Anne (from Los Angeles), and father.

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We met up with our Guangzhou guide, Elvin, and proceeded to be dropped off the other two families at the China Hotel, A Marriott Hotel. Our clan returned to the LN Garden Hotel.

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The first order of business was to open our hotel room door and throw out a bag of blocks on the floor. I was determined to show Sophie that our room was not a torture center. Sophie took to the gesture and we had a relatively smooth night.

The next morning we enjoyed a fantastic breakfast at the hotel and met up with the other two families to get physicals. While waiting, we ran into Aron, our Guangzhou guide from three years ago when we adopted Kara.

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It was really nice to see Aron was doing well and continuing to help other families with their adoption journeys.

Here’s a pic of Sophie getting her physical.


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We then spent the afternoon checking out the hotel play room (which was unimpressive) and the neighborhood.

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IMG_0980After a nice dinner at the hotel, we walked around and explored the beauty of the LN Garden.

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A couple of us are under the weather right now, including myself. But like very parent can attest, there are no sick days for parents. And trust me when I say that Sophie is not giving us any breaks.

Sophie Delivers A Wonderful Christmas – Part 2

After a fun afternoon at Bamboo Park, the group returned to our hotel. Since Sophie is a thumb sucker and enjoyed the bottle so much prior to bed, we went for a 5 block stroll as a family to Ren Ren Market to purchase a pacifier, a teething ring, and some toys. Ren Ren Market reminded us of a Chinese Wal-Mart.

Here’s a picture of the gang walking back from Ren Ren, goods in tow.

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When we returned to the hotel, we hung out and listed to carolers sing Christmas songs.
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At 6:30 p.m., we figured we’d take out our guide for a special dinner since it is Christmas. We asked her to recommend her favorite hot pot restaurant, and boy, she did not disappoint!

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Some of you may be wondering about braving a nice 2+ hour dinner with an incessant cryer. Well, Sophie didn’t cry at all. In fact, we had an amazing breakthrough! Sophie entertained all of us by looking up with her big eyes whenever her name was called and even posed for pictures. She sat on her highchair and played with her spoon and bowl while Ali fed her without any fuss whatsoever. We were all very amazed (and relieved) by the sudden turnaround.

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Here’s a picture of the entire gang. Kara was knocked out from all her Bamboo Park activities.

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All the good times today had a price. Here’s the Christmas hangover picture.

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See you Chengdu! We will especially miss you and Laura!

Sophie Delivers A Wonderful Christmas – Part 1

We wanted to make Christmas for Kara especially special. Santa took a strategic bite out of a cookie she left out for him and left several gifts for everyone, and Ali made a nice cup of hot chocolate just for Kara in the morning. We got together and opened a few gifts that we were able to pack.

Kara drew a nice picture from her trip to the Panda Park. The ‘Alexander’ in her picture is another 6 year old (adopted from Korea) that accompanied his awesome parents, Elizabeth and Royal, to bring home (to Houston) Maximus, an 18 month old Chengdu boy. Kara and Alexander have become fast friends and provided both sets of parents some relief by entertaining each other while the parentals dived into the adoption process.

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Here’s a picture of Alexander and Kara at the ancient street we visited.

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To establish a stronger bond with Sophie which in turn will allow me to help out Ali more, I asked that I be the one to carry Sophie today in the carrier. Sophie fought it initially, but settled down quickly when I started feeding her bits of waffle from breakfast. On a side note, many parents (adoptive or not) share that feeding is one of the most crucial aspects to bonding. The key is to establish eye contact. This was something Sophie didn’t quite do yet with me.

Here she is strapped and trapped. Look at how she arches her back to avoid getting too close.

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Here are some pictures of the ancient street. The architecture is amazing and straight out of an old Chinese movie set.

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The snacks looked colorful and delicious… well some of them did.

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Artists lined the streets with some amazing artwork. Here is a picture of a mime and another of some artwork made of sugar.

For 10 yuan, you can spin a wheel. Depending on where you land, the artist would use sugar to make art that you can display… and I guess eat too!

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After a nice stroll, we ended up at a nice teahouse where we had lunch and energized ourselves for Bamboo Park. The entire time, Kara and Alexander have been asking for a playground. Little did they know the exciting things that lied ahead.

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Bamboo Park appealed to all visitors, young and mature.

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Part 2 to come… going to get my last lunch at Chengdu… Deciding between McDonald’s or KFC.

Inconsolable

Both Ali and I are worn out. Every time we take Sophie back to the hotel room, she starts screaming and crying. The only thing that seems to calm her down is standing next to the window. Toys won’t even do the trick. There are many moments when I can’t stand this little girl and question why we subjected ourselves to the emotional anguish.

We keep telling ourselves that Sophie is terrified and grieving, and that it will all change at some point. In the meantime, we have to allow her to go through the mourning process and, at the same time, let her know that she is safe and loved.

I guess the good thing for the time being is that she has warmed up to Ali (more so than me). I feel a little dejected because Ali is having to carry the load for now. At some point, I hope Sophie feels more comfortable with me.

There has been some progress. On the first day, she wouldn’t even hold my hand. Instead she would push it away. Today, she was willing to grab my finger as we walked around the hotel.

For support and advice, I’ve been reading some posts in the Toddler Adoption China Yahoo! Group. Apparently, this is a very common response. In fact, there was one person who had the exact same experience with his child screaming and crying, and only wanting to stare out the window.

At the end, there was one quote that I will keep close to heart: This is a journey with very difficult moments during the beginning and a gigantic rainbow and pot of gold at the end.

Here she is during one of her many tantrums.

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But there are moments, albeit few right now, that remind us again why we went through it all and what we hope to look forward to. Here is Sophie after her sister kissed her good night. As of today, this is her first and only smile.

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Update on our trip: We spent our second day completing paperwork in the afternoon. We hit a couple of government offices to finalize the China requirements for the adoption. I’m not sure why this is a requirement, but here’s a picture of Sophie getting her footprint.

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Today, we asked Laura, our guide, to pull up the Panda Park excursion. I was supposed to be our Christmas day excursion, but Kara has been a real good sport the entire time we’ve been here and we thought we’d do something she’d enjoy.

We all benefitted from getting up close to these magnificent animals.
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Kara enjoyed the entire excursion until this little guy below (the Red Panda) ran right by and brushed her leg.
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December 22nd, 2014 – Our First Day with Sophie – Part Three

Our wonderful guide, Laura, brought us to this awesome location for lunch. We were introduced to a giant food court where we had access to a large variety of unique dishes and snacks.

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Knowing we had a new addition to the group, we thought it best to bring the dishes back to the hotel and allow Sophie to get acclimated and rest.

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Since then, it has been a roller coaster of emotions for all of us trying to get to know Sophie. She hasn’t made it easy (as expected). Even at 20 months, we discovered she had a deep bond with her caretaker(s). There were moments when she was unconsolable, affording us no option but to allow her to cry and get it out of her system.

While I can’t speak for Ali, there are a few instances when I caught myself wondering why we even agreed to take part in this journey. We were already happy parents and had the ideal kid in Kara, and we weren’t doing all this simply to be happier or for the sake of becoming a family of four.

Strange as it may sound, when we adopted Kara, we were thinking about ourselves and how we could enhance our lives with a child. This time around, we embarked in this journey not so much for us, but for Kara. Like Ali, I want Kara to one day have someone she can hopefully count on besides her parents.

Ali and I are young enough to conceive. But that wasn’t the way we wanted to make this happen. We wanted Kara to have someone in her life, besides us, who will understand her, who shared the same background, and who will always share that unique bond of being not only sisters, but being orphans and adopted.

That is the end goal and what we constantly remind ourselves as we deal with the screaming and crying sessions. It’s all part of the difficult process of breaking and forging new bonds. Both Ali and I have to remind ourselves that we had some really rough moments with Kara when we initially got her, and that it wasn’t this fantastic experience until the final stages of our trip.

We can tell when we observe Sophie that she is scared. She constantly looks around the hotel room hoping to find a familiar face or voice. I can only wonder what it is like to be so young and to be thrusted into a new environment where there are strangers looking back at you. They look different and they smell different from the only people you know and grown accustomed to.

We remind ourselves to not let this challenging moment break our faith and confidence as parents. Kara went through it and is now thriving. Sophie, in time, will as well…!

December 22nd, 2014 – Our First Day with Sophie – Part Two

This post will have to be in pieces. I keep getting interrupted by a crying baby.

After signing a few adoption docs, we received a quick tour of the orphanage.

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We even got to catch a glimpse of Sophie’s bed and her caretakers.

Sophie, or course, was still crying the entire way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the tour, we got on our way. As you can see, both parents are tired, but happy.
But someone was exhausted. IMG_0710IMG_0712

On a side note, she looked like a ‘butterball’ with the thick clothing they had her in. IMG_0708IMG_0709

Part 3… after breakfast.IMG_0713

 

December 22nd, 2014 – Our First Day with Sophie – Part One

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We started the morning with an excited Kara. Grandma braided her hair and she was ready to go! Check out her pretty braid!

IMG_0625Next up was breakfast downstairs. As you can see, the selection was quite limited.

IMG_0626Wonton, bacon, sausages, fried eggs, pancakes, waffles, boiled vegetables, assorted buns… you name it, you got it.

By 9 a.m., we were in the lobby ready to exchange our U.S. dollars for China RMB. We walked across the street to the bank and had to wait an hour to exchange $8K US for $50K RMB. By 10:30 a.m., we were on our way.

IMG_0627After a 40 minute drive, we arrived at the orphanage. The first thing we received was Sophie’s file along with pictures of her when she was younger. Then her caretaker brought her in and she was handed to her new family.

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Needless to say, Sophie was freaked out by the cameras and all the attention. I, of course, want to capture this awesome moment.

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Uh oh, the Butterball is awake. I have to cut out right now. Part 2 in a few hours!

Chengdu

Nothing like a 14-hour plane ride to get caught up with the latest movies and numb one’s buttocks. Man, that was a long flight!

Nonetheless, we’re here in Chengdu! Our first obstacles are over:

  • Kara handled the long flight like a champ… like she does everything else.
  • We made it through customs without any issues.
  • Our luggage arrived with us and no one lost anything.

Here’s a couple of pictures of us leaving San Francisco International and onboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner:

IMG_0597Many thanks to our Uncle Colin and Auntie Mimi for coming up from San Jose to send us off!

IMG_0601Here’s a pic of our world traveler getting all comfy.

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And another one…

IMG_0607Our plane, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I was quite impressed. The plane had no window shades. Instead, the window had a switch that allowed the passenger to dim it to an ambient green.

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How I killed an hour…

When we arrived, we were greeted by our guide, Laura, and were driven by our driver, Mr. Lee, to China Tianfu Sunshine Hotel in central Chengdu. Central Chengdu is quite spectacular and reminded me a little bit of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris.

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Traffic on a Sunday night. Local time 8 p.m. Apparently, the roads can’t support a population of 14 million. As such, drivers with license plates that start with certain numbers are allow to drive on specific days. I think tonight it was 1 and 6.

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After a 30 minute right, we made it to our hotel. Here are some pictures of the lobby and lobby bar.

IMG_0618 IMG_0619 We had an unexpected bonus when checking in. Apparently, the travel agency booked 3 rooms for the 6 (or soon to be 7) of us. Al and I get the room with a crib for Sophie. Grant and Pam have their own room. And Kara gets to share a room with her grandma, Rose.

A complete buffet breakfast is included daily as part of our stay. Heard from our guide that it’s supposed to be pretty good.

Anyways, it’s 3:22 a.m. I’m watching ‘As Good As It Gets’ (one of my favorite movies) on HBO (with Chinese subtitles of course!). “Do you sell hard-shelled crabs?”

We head out at 9 a.m. to the orphanage. I’m looking forward to breakfast. Al’s looking forward to checking out the 24-hour Family Mart aka 7-Eleven for shampoo. I think we’re just jet-lagged. But even more so, I think we’re just amped with excitement and anticipation for our newest family member.

Sophie, we’ll see you a few hours!

It All Starts Now… Again

6:15 a.m. – 90% packed. Need to drop by work to print out a couple of documents and run to Rite-Aid to pick up additional passport photos. Things I should of completed earlier this week, of course. But procrastination is my middle name, so I can’t help myself.

The reality of it all is that I’ve completed much more paperwork and tasks prior to this. Call me sadistic or weird, but having to handle these few odds and ends at the very last minute allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment when I get on that 787 Dreamliner. I’ll feel as though I’ve earned this trip and that I deserved this experience of being a father to another child. When I get on that plane, I’ll finally be able to relax.

T minus 6.5 hours till takeoff!

Preparing for #2!

2014 has been an extremely trying year. From buying a house, selling a house, dealing with my aunt’s death, getting my gall bladder removed, to adopting a second little girl, I will forever remember this year as a time when I was pushed to the limit. To top it all off, my new car was damaged last Friday in a hit and run. But hey, there’s too many good things going on for me to focus on this minor speed bump.

In one week, Alison and I will add a second daughter to our family. Kara will have a little sister. Our family of three will become a family of four!

I almost feel as if the first half of Christmas has been about everyone else… celebrating birthdays, Christmas gift shopping, etc. This second half will be about us collecting ourselves and prepping for the unknown. How will we handle a 20 month old?! How do we handle having two children?! Will Kara and her new sister get along?

Tons of questions swirl in my head everyday. Looking back, we probably underwent this same experience when we went to get Kara in 2012. Knowing that everything turned out well with Kara’s adoption gives me confidence that everything will be fine this time around. However, I also feel that this second time around is different in that we’re not as prepared as we were three years ago. My only hope is that some experience will carry us in the days ahead.

For now, I leave you with a picture of our soon-to-be daughter, Sophie aka ‘The Butterball.’She Si Ding

Next stop… Chengdu!

Knocking ’em out of the Park!

To use a baseball analogy, this past month I feel as though I’ve been standing in front of 20 pitching machines. Life has its finger on the button and all 20 machines blasted 90 mph fast balls at me.

There were moments when I just wanted to get out of the way and not get hit. But the consequences of dodging these bullets would be severe.

So let’s take inventory and memorialize this period (August 13, 2014 – September 12, 2014):

  1. Submitted an offer on a new house and actually won. The moves and counter moves, back and forth, wreaked havoc on not only my emotions, but my wife as well.
  2. Rushed to get Kara enrolled for kindergarten at her new school. She is growing up quickly. Despite the craziness, I think both Ali and I did our best to internalize this awesome moment and make it special for our little girl.
  3. Packed and moved out of our house in one weekend. It was a three-day weekend (Labor Day), but I was away for two days in Reno for a bowling tournament.
  4. Furnish our new home. This is still ongoing, but it’s coming together with a new bed and living room furniture, hopefully, getting delivered next week.
  5. Prepping our old home for sale. It is something I dread, but it looks like we will have to update the kitchen to get optimal price for our home. The next week will be shopping for materials, appliances, and a contractor that can turn this around in less than 10 days.
  6. Dealing with death. My aunt, who I’ve recently had a chance to get to know, found out shortly after arriving in the U.S. that she had cancer. Unfortunately, it was terminal, and she past on Saturday, September 6th. I had the opportunity to see and say a few words to her before she past away. It is never easy seeing anyone, more so a loved one, deteriorate from this terrible disease. This is the second time I’ve had to watch someone I care and love lose their fight to cancer. I had flashbacks to when my Aunt Susan was stricken to a hospital bed fighting for her last breaths of life. I don’t know how to explain my feelings except that each time I lose someone I care about, a part of my spirit dies with them or it shines a little less bright.
  7. Work is picking up. Tuesday, I head to Fort Lauderdale for a 4-day business trip. Definitely, the most inopportune time with all that is going on with the house sale. But hey, it’s part of leading two lives: your work life and your home life.

I calculate I still have one month of this madness to go. One day I’m going to look back and think about how strong I was during this time. It’s not about how many pushups or how many pounds I can bench press, but more about resolve, putting out fires, and simply getting shit done.

It also helps that I have a strong network of family and friends who have lent a hand whether it be lifting a piece of furniture or my spirits with a joke or a smile. For that, I can also remember this moment and feel fortunate.

Enough ‘self-high-fiving!’ The finish line is in sight…!

Fighting Kara’s Fights

I’ve had such a positive response from this Facebook post, I had to post it on my blog. Only one friend disagreed with how I handled the situation, but more than 50 friends liked the post and complimented me on it.

Facebook status, January 7, 2014, 9:41 a.m.

Dropped off the little beast at daycare today. I usually don’t stick around, but today, I did. I observed as one of her classmates told her to go away in a pretty mean way. Poor Kara responded with, ‘But we’re friends…?’

I told Kara to come over to me. As I got on one knee and started talking, Kara thought she was in trouble.

I told her that sometimes friends need space and that it is okay if her friend did not want to play with her.

Long and behold, her ‘friend’ overheard what I said and felt compelled to share loudly, ‘I’m playing with someone else and not with you!’

Never one to back down to anyone (much less a 5 year old), I told Kara and made sure her ‘friend’ and every kid in the area heard, “Sometimes, there are people that don’t have very good hearts, in which case, they might not be good friends. Now go find friends who have good hearts and play with them.”

I watched, as her ‘friend’ dropped her head in shame. Then I said to her, ‘Yeah, words hurt.’

I know, I’m a bully and an a-hole for trying to get the last word in against a kid. And I know there will come a time when I can’t fight Kara’s battles for her and she will learn that not everyone, regardless of age, is a nice person.

Driving to work, I got chills thinking about what lies ahead for Kara. She will encounter bullies, stranger danger, and simply hurtful people. For a moment, I felt a little helpless knowing there is nothing I can do about it. My sweet, little girl who always think the best of the world and everyone will lose that innocence.

I know it’s part of growing up, but I can’t help that this makes me sad.

My Hope…

My little girl is turning 5 in a few weeks and I’m sad.

I’m sad not because she’s growing up quickly nor because I’m reminded that I’m getting older. I’m sad because I’m recognizing my declining ability to protect her.

That might sound weird to many people, but until recently, Al and I have been the impressionable forces driving Kara’s decisions. Her likes and dislikes were, in many ways, dictated by what we allowed to be exposed to her.

I know discovery is essential and part of growing up, but as a parent, I want to protect my little girl any way I can.

Just this weekend, while parking my car in front of a restaurant, I observed Kara as her attention was directed to a homeless man panhandling one feet away from our car. Kara pointed at him and yelled in excitement, “He has a funny, long beard!” Immediately, I instructed her not to point at others and to keep her observations to herself as what she was saying might ‘hurt other people’s feelings.’

Kara, obviously, had a hard time understanding and asked me, ‘Why, daddy?’ At that very moment, I didn’t have a good answer for her and only told her that it was rude and ‘the man might not like that you said his beard looked funny.’

Again, the response was, ‘Why, daddy?’

I didn’t know what else to say except that her words can be powerful and can hurt people’s feelings.

Looking back, what I wanted to say was that not everyone is a good person and the man she might have insulted unintentionally could respond negatively and hurt her.

As we were eating ice cream after dinner, I observed Kara again as her attention was directed to a couple sitting at the table next to us. I could tell Kara was trying to decipher what the couple was conversing about, why they were laughing, and maybe even why they were together.

That very moment, I understood what I wanted to say to her all along. I asked her, “Kara, do you know what daddy wants more than anything?”

I received the only response expected from a 4 year old being asked such a question: a nod and ‘No, daddy.’

Without getting too emotional, I said to her, “I know you don’t understand right now, but I hope the world will always treat you good, Kara.”

For a couple of seconds, she gave her daddy a perplexed look and went back to her ice cream.

Ali was observing the entire time, but didn’t say anything. Perhaps she saw it as simply a tender moment between a father and his daughter. Or maybe, she noticed a parent was starting to accept that he has to open the world up to his child and let her experience the good and the bad…

Officially One Year Home!

Time goes by too fast these days. It seems like yesterday, we brought home our little girl. She was so sick and scared. We remember how she’d stroke her hair as a coping mechanism to comfort herself when she slept.

These days, she’s a normal little girl going to pre-school… and wait for it… DISNEYLAND!

Happy one year anniversary, Kara!

Below are some pics of me reading to Kara’s classmates. Kara thought it would be a terrific idea if she shared her favorite books with her friends in school on her birthday. Ali made it more memorable by baking yummy cupcakes for her to share.

And of course, some pics of our recent trip to Disneyland!

The little beast is growing up fast!

Someone’s Turning 4 in a Month!

Planning a kid’s party is tough work. But both Ali and I want to make Kara’s first birthday party special. We are also celebrating her first year home with us.

Here are some of my latest, favorite pictures of our little beast. Can’t believe it’s almost been a year since we’ve became her parents.