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Monday 11/25/2002

It’s Christmas in China! Arriving in the dining room for breakfast we are amazed to find that the hotel lobby has undergone an amazing overnight transformation. An enormous Christmas tree has been erected beside the waterfall in the lobby and all of the restaurant hostesses are dressed in Santa outfits. The dining room itself is decorated with smaller trees, gingerbread houses, garlands, and wreaths. As one would expect in China, all of the decorations are strictly secular. We didn’t expect to see much in the way of Christmas while in China, and we’re not at all sure how big of a holiday it is here. The White Swan probably gets into it a bit more because of all the Western guests staying here. Anyway, it looks wonderful and we thoroughly enjoy it.

After breakfast we head to a small photo shop across the street from the hotel to have pictures taken for the babies’ Chinese visas. Always efficient, Cynthia lines us up and within 20 minutes a dozen or so baby pictures are done. From the photo shop we continue on foot to the local medical center - the babies are required to have physical examinations prior to entering the United States. The medical center is on the other side of Shamian Island (about a 15 minute walk from the White Swan) and we get to see a good bit of the island on the way. We travel along a wide brick walkway beside the canal that separates Shamian Island from Guangzhou to the north. The canal, overhung with trees and spanned by several stone footbridges, is quite reminiscent of the River Walk in San Antonio.

The medical center is a new building, clean and brightly lit, with lots of white tile, glass, and stainless steel. We’re lead through a large foyer, where lots of locals are queued up, to a special adopted-babies-only waiting room in the back of the building. There are 3 stations for each baby to visit: weight; ear, nose, and throat; and general physical exam. The exams are quick but thorough, and the doctors are professional and compassionate. It takes less than an hour to process all of the babies through the exam stations and then we’re free to make our way back to the White Swan. The rest of the afternoon is ours to do with as we please.

On the way back to the hotel way pass a pet shop. Through the window we see tanks filled with eels and exotic tropical fish. We walk inside and see even more tanks - frogs, turtles, snakes, and gigantic swimming beetles. Suddenly we realize we've made a terrible mistake. This isn't a pet shop - it's a restaurant! We make a hasty retreat and return to the hotel for a less adventurous lunch delivered from Danny’s Bagel. Danny’s Bagel is a Guangzhou institution, delivering Western food (pizzas, steak sandwiches, and fries) right to your hotel room door.

After nap time we head out to do a little exploring on our own. We have a map of Guangzhou which shows a toy market that appears to be within reasonable walking distance of the White Swan. We head for the canal, cross by one of the footbridges, and then use an elevated pedestrian walkway to cross an extremely busy multi-lane highway which runs along the Guangzhou side of the canal. Guangzhou itself is much less Western than Shamian Island, although not nearly as foreign as Changsha. The street is lined with small shops selling everything imaginable - clothes, food, books, electronics. The sidewalk is packed with people, many of whom stop to smile at Hope and talk to her. A few people even give us the thumbs-up sign to indicate their approval. No matter where we go, I come to the same conclusion - the Chinese are remarkably good people!

We walk for a couple of hours, never seeing another Caucasian face, and sadly never seeing a toy market either. The map we have is rather crude, showing only a few street names and landmarks. After the first mile or so we’re never able to figure out exactly where on the map we are. And unfortunately there really isn’t anyone around that we can ask for directions. We do stop in a department store that’s shown on the map - at least we think it’s probably the one that’s on the map, but it’s hard to tell for sure. The other department stores we’ve visited in China have been laid out much like Western stores, but this one is different. Each floor of this store contains a large number of small, seemingly independent booths. There are hundreds of booths, most selling some sort of consumer electronics - radios, CD players, and especially cell phones. We attract a lot of attention here, but again it’s all very friendly.

To save time on the return trip we decide to take a short cut through the Guangzhou Culture Park. Admission is only 10 RMB ($1.25 American) for the both of us and, as at home, baby gets in for free. The girl at the ticket counter seems to get a big kick out of seeing us. According to our tour book this is a busy amusement park, but in late November it seems to be mostly shut down for the season. None of the rides are running and it has a sad, vacant air about it. Most of the other visitors are elderly and we recall John telling us that senior citizens are admitted free to most places in Guangzhou - the Culture Park seems to be quite the popular hangout for the oldsters. We stop in the park’s aquarium which features crude models of gigantic fish, sharks, and rays along with grimy glass cases filled with rows of jars containing unidentifiable specimens. There are a few large tanks of fish, but nowhere near as nice a display as what we saw this morning at the restaurant on Shamian Island. Out back are a pair of large blue tiled pools, like swimming pools, which are only partially filled with water. One contains several large koi, the other holds a few turtles. At the exit to the Culture Park we see large statues of what appear to be Mickey and Minnie Mouse. They’re 12 or 15 feet high, with long pointy noses which curve upward. Beside them is a third, smaller mouse. Apparently, at least in China, Mickey and Minnie have reproduced! We wonder if maybe they came here to put the little mouse up for adoption.

We return to the hotel tired, but excited from our explorations. This is the farthest we’ve strayed from the beaten track, and we’d be in big trouble with Cynthia if she found out. After dinner in our room (more noodles) we hook up with Dave, Kay, and Lillian for some shopping. We don’t have a whole lot of time left - it’s time get serious about gifts and souvenirs to take back with us. Fortunately we’re in just the right place for shopping.

White Swan Christmas   All of the waitresses in the Whiteswan's dining room were dressed for Christmas.
White Swan Christmas   The dining room has been decorated for Christmas.
White Swan Christmas   An enormous Christmas tree has been erected inside the Whiteswan's lobby.
White Swan Christmas   A shot of the decorations from the other end of the lobby.
White Swan Christmas   One more shot of the lobby decorated for Christmas.
White Swan Christmas   Kathy and I pose with Hope in front of the White Swan's giant Christmas tree.
White Swan Christmas   Somebody must work full-time just keeping up with the burned out bulbs on this tree.
White Swan Christmas   Even the outside of the Whiteswan was decorated for Christmas. The sign reads "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."
Waiting For Pictures   Mike, Dave, and I wait for our turn at the photo shop. It was a pretty nice day, but it would have been scandalous had the babies been any less bundled up than they are.
Shamian Island   A small bridge leading from Shamian Island to Guangzhou.
Shamian Island   Shamian Island is to the right of this picture and Guangzhou is to the left, separated by the canal and an elevated highway.
Shamian Island   Shamian Island from the Guangzhou side of the canal.
Shamian Island   Another footbridge connecting Shamian Island with Guangzhou.
Guangzhou Culture Park   Large floral sculptures featured in the Guangzhou Culture Park.
Guangzhou Culture Park   More floral sculptures from the Guangzhou Culture Park.;
Guangzhou Culture Park   We spotted this group of old men with caged birds in the Culture Park. It wasn't clear whether the birds were pets or some sort of picnic dish.
Guangzhou Culture Park   At the gate of the Culture Park we spot Minnie, Mickey, and the mysterious third mouse.
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