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Saturday 11/23/02

By 7:00 a.m. a large number of Chinese (maybe 100 or so) have gathered in the parking lot of the building next to our hotel. We watch with fascination from the window of our room. In the front a group has formed 5 straight, evenly spaced lines. They follow two leaders in Tai Chi exercises. Behind them couples spin and dance across the parking lot to traditional Chinese music played over loud speakers. On the periphery of the parking lot we see several fast paced, although netless, games of badminton. We peek out from time to time - the activity continues for hours.

Since we’ve been in Changsha we’ve seen nothing besides clouds and drizzle and haze. But this morning the clouds break up and the fog burns off; we see bright sunshine and clear blue sky. From our 30th floor window I can see tall buildings stretching off to a distant mountain range. Changsha looks far less grim under these weather conditions - I’m glad we got to see it this way before we had to leave.

But in spite of the nice weather and the marvelous view it’s time to leave. The bellboys have already come and picked up our luggage for transport to the airport. We grab our babies and our carry-on bags and board the waiting bus for a short ride to the airport. As before we wait in a group at the airport while Cynthia gets our tickets, boarding passes, and departure tax coupons. Security is easy - they check our passports and boarding passes and then, of course, stamp our departure tax coupons with the all-important red stamp.

We stop in a shop in the Changsha airport and purchase a small bag of silver needle tea. This tea is grown exclusively on Junshan Island in Dongting Lake and is a famous export of Hope's hometown, Yueyang. Most likely we won't be able to find any of this in Guangzhou. The dried leaves are long and thin, kind of like tiny pine needles and are supposed to stand on end when added to hot water. At 40 RMB (about $5.00 American) it's surprisingly expensive by Chinese standards.

Contrary to Cynthia’s fear of another departure delay, our flight to Guangzhou leaves right on time. Most of the other passengers are locals, with our group spread across the first ten or twelve rows of the plane. Since our boarding passes were printed randomly it takes a few minutes of swapping to get families seated together (or at least close) and to ensure that there’s only one baby in each row - each row has 3 seats and 4 oxygen masks, leaving only 1 extra mask per row. Most of the babies do really well with their first flight. Hope has no problems at all - she’s an amazingly flexible baby.

The flight only lasts about an hour, but we’re exhausted by the time we reach Guangzhou. We collect our bags from the carousel, load them onto pushcarts, and head for the luggage van which is parked outside. The Guangzhou airport is very small and is jammed with people - we have to fight our way through crowds to get out. Outside the sun is shining brightly, it’s warm (upper 70’s), and just a little muggy. It’s a welcome change from the cool, gloomy weather of Changsha, but we’re sweaty and even more tired by the time we reach the luggage van. The driver looks on incredulously as a mountain of luggage forms behind his van. I don’t think it’s all going to fit either, but thankfully it’s his problem and not mine.

This time we get a full-sized bus with big comfy seats and air conditioning. On the bus we’re introduced to our local guide, John. He’s a tall, jolly fellow who always seems to be smiling. His English is pretty good, but not as good as Wendy’s, and nowhere near as good as Cynthia’s. Guangzhou is huge - John tells us that 10 million people live here. It seems to be cleaner than Changsha, and also much more Western - there are lots of signs in English and lots of people speak English. John tells us that Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton in the West) is one of the largest cities in China and is growing rapidly. Construction is evident everywhere we look - tall apartment buildings and nice, new roads. The traffic is quite heavy, but John says that this is nothing compared with rush hour - I’ll be happy to take his word for it.

Even with the traffic it only takes about 20 minutes to get across the city to the White Swan Hotel. While our other Chinese hotels have been quite nice, the White Swan is truly luxurious. It’s one of China’s finest hotels and has hosted numerous heads of state. The hotel lobby opens into a 5 or 6 story atrium. At the far end of the atrium is a steep rocky hill topped by a pagoda. A waterfall tumbles down the hill and into a large koi pond which stretches back into the lobby. Small shops selling all kinds of Chinese arts and crafts ring the atrium area. The hotel backs up to the Pearl River and from the lobby dining room we can see ships and boats sailing by. It’s wonderful, but we don’t stop to look for long. Everyone’s tired and there will be plenty of time for exploring later.

We check in, collect our keys, and head for our room to wait for the luggage to arrive from the airport. It’s strange to be so tired after such a short trip - an hour in the air and less than a half of an hour on the bus. Apparently a week and a half of non-stop touring and running is starting to take a toll on us. We’d planned on calling for room service and making an early night of it, but Dave calls and invites us to go to the Hard Rock Cafe with him and Kay, and Curt and Sharon. It sounds like fun, so we decide to go, tired or not.

We stop at the hotel desk and pick up small cards which have “Take me to” followed by a list of local attractions printed in English and Chinese. We check off the box beside "Hard Rock Cafe" and then hand the card to a cab driver to let him know where we're going. After a wild 15 minute cab ride through Guangzhou we arrive at the Hard Rock, safe and sound. Cab fare comes to 15 RMB (less than $2 American). It’s 6:30 on a Saturday evening but the Hard Rock is deserted. They push two tables together to accommodate our group - 6 adults and 3 babies. We order burgers and fries, the first real American food we’ve had in China (McDonalds and Pizza Hut don't really count). I enjoy a nice cold draft Carlsburg, and don’t complain a bit when the server returns a few minutes later with a second beer, explaining that they're having a two-for-one special for happy hour.

The Hard Rock has a nice stage but sadly there's no live entertainment tonight, instead we get standard American rock & roll over the speakers - lots of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. As we're gathering up all of our baby gear in prepartion to leave, they start playing "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias. I'm surprised that a place like the Hard Rock would be playing such sentimental garbage. As I walk across the room holding my new daughter, I can't help but listen to the lyrics. Maybe the jet lag and the beer have something to do with it, but just for a moment, I'm truely overwhelmed.

"I can be your hero baby,
  I can kiss away the pain,
  I will stand by you forever,
  You can take my breath away."

We make the obligatory stop at the Hard Rock gift shop for tee-shirts and then head back outside and hail a couple of cabs, again presenting our cards from the White Swan to let the driver know where to take us. It winds up being a nice relaxing evening and we’re back at the White Swan in time to get Hope to bed by 8:30.

Changsha Exercise   Locals fill the parking lot beside our hotel for early morning Tai Chi, ballroom dancing, and badminton.
Passport  Always the savvy traveler, Hope immediately checks to make sure her new passport is in order.
Passport  Everything's fine - she's ready to move on to Guangzhou!
White Swan   The White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou.
White Swan   The White Swan's atrium, featuring a multi-story waterfall and lush tropical plants.
Going Home Barbie  It's "Going Home" Barbie with her newly adopted Chinese baby. One of these commerative dolls was left in each baby's room, courtesy of the White Swan and Mattel. Barbie sure looks neat and clean, at least compared with us. She obviously hasn't been washing her clothes in the bathroom sink either - maybe she sends her laundry out...
Hard Rock  Here we are at the Hard Rock Cafe in Guangzhou. 
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