International Dateline Confusion – an EXTREMELY long post

This entry is enormous.  I wrote it more for myself than for anyone who may be reading this blog.  It is a description of MY feelings during our first adoption trip.  I will not be sharing details about my daughter.  I will only be exploring my own feelings, finding the gifts of the moment during that journey.  The months between October and January are filled with memories that I have never taken the time write down.  Now is the time.   Please be patient with me as I relive a multitude of memories over the next few months.  Thanks!

I have never understood the whole international dateline thing when it comes to flying.  How could I get on the plane in the USA on Friday morning, fly for 17 hours, and land in China late Saturday evening?  It just does not compute.  But that is what happened to us in 2002.

We started our mega flight from Chicago in the late morning (at least we started boarding the plane during the late morning) of Friday, October 18, 2002.  We flew west.  (Confused once again, we were going to the “Far East” – why were we going west?)  I got on the plane.  Please remember that I had only been on  a plane 7 times in my entire life prior to this trip.  And I was much skinnier during those flights!   I walked down the right aisle.  I peeked at First Class – oh my, such luxury.  We walked through Business Class.  Wide seats, elbow room – not bad.  I walk through the little passageway – sideways so that I could fit – and see coach.  12 seats across.  None of them looked wide enough for my thigh to fit in, let alone my tushie!  This may be a longer flight than I anticipated!  As I walked down the aisle – farther and farther from that dream land of luxury at the front of the plane, I started looking around at my fellow passengers.  The plane was full.  Absolutely full.  Sardine full.  I looked around to find my seat and get my carry-on up in the overhead compartment.  Then I stood there for a minute before I crammed my body into that matchbox sized space to see if I could figure out where my fellow travelers were seated.  My parents were behind us.  I saw glimpses of the rest of the travel group, but they were all lost in this sea of dark hair.  Then I started looking around, really looking, at all the passengers on the plane.  Let’s stop this story to explain something.  I am blonde.  I was platinum blonde as a child.  I became more corn silk blonde as an adult.  When my body got all fouled up with fertility issues it went to dishwater blonde which is skillfully transformed into highlights by my wonderful friend.  But my eyelashes and eyebrows were, and still are, platinum blonde.  I am a reasonably intelligent person.  At the time I had been a Registered Nurse for 14 years.   I had and still have critical thinking skills.  That is, I had them until I got on a plane en route to adopt a child.   Since I have returned home from both adoption trips, other than some mommy-brain times, I continue to have critical thinking skills.  But that day.  Well,  can we just say that I lived up to the color of my hair?  Because that day I looked around the plane and thought to myself – wow, there are a lot of Asian people on the plane.  I did quickly mentally slap myself  – HARD.  I knew where we were going, I knew the physical traits of the people we were going to see when we got there.  But somehow, well, somehow the blonde switch clicked.  I wish I could say it was because of the impossibly early hour we got up that morning, or that I had been deprived of my normal amount of caffeine, or…….  Nope, I was just impossibly stupid at that moment in time.  I figured I had better sit down at that point, at least until my brain function returned to relatively normal levels.

We said good-bye to North America as we passed the coast of Alaska and continued north, northwest – way, way, way north.  (We were within just a few miles of the north pole!  I kept waiting to see the red and white pole marker so that I could wave to Santa, but for some reason I just never saw it.)  I need to clarify something here – I have absolutely NO concept of distance.  You could tell me something is 12 feet tall.  Great, 12 feet.  Just how big is that?  I need something to put it into perspective.  Tell me that is just shy of 2 of my husband, I am good to go.   But don’t tell me feet.  They quoted how high up we were.  They told us in feet.  Have I mentioned that I don’t understand feet?  If you put it in feet, then that means it is not that big (or in this case, not that “high”).  I kept looking down at the arctic circle as we flew over it.  I kept seeing big snow drifts.  I kept looking for things I might recognize – like polar bears.  I really wanted to see a polar bear.  I muttered something about this to DH.  Thank goodness I was out of ear range of my fellow adoptive parents.  DH just looked at me.  Then he grinned.  Grinning turned to smiling, which turned to chuckling, which turned into a huge belly laugh.  Somehow I missed the joke of what I had said.  Finally he was able to get out that the amount of  “feet” high we were flying could actually be equated into miles.  I just looked at DH.  (In all honesty, I was REALLY trying not to blush at this point!).  Well then, why in blue blazes did the man not say we were flying 6.5 miles above the earth!  I would never have wasted my time looking for polar bears.  Oh, and by the way – those weren’t snow drifts and icebergs I was looking at – they were mountains.  Just thought you might want to know that, you know, if you are measurement challenged.

I gave up looking for that elusive polar bear.  You know, the one that was probably down there but I could not see because he was only 6.5 miles below us.  Many of us who were adopting stood around for untold hours at the back of the plane.  We talked.  We stretched.  We talked.  We dodged fellow travelers heading to the lavatory.  We talked.  (I secretly peeked out the window a few times, not entirely convinced we were really that high up – the pilot did say feet, not miles! – still looking for that polar bear).  We stretched some more.  We headed back to our seats for the movie.

The movie – ah, the movie.  It was one that I had wanted to see.  I anticipated that movie.  I knew it would keep me occupied for a couple of hours.  It was a comedy, so I would be able to laugh and relax.  I could forget, just for a moment, the anxiety when I thought of the purpose of our trip.   Of course when I put my ear phones on, they did not work well, even with the volume at full blast.  I could only hear about every 3rd word.  OK.  Well, maybe I could figure out the story line anyway.  I looked up at the screen.  The one at the very front of the packed coach section of the plane.  The one that was being blocked by lots of heads.  I scootched around in my seat until I found the best view.  Of course it was with my hips shifted one way to fit in those impossibly tiny aircraft seats, with my torso twisted so that I was not bumping into the very nice stranger sitting next to me (you know, the whole personal space thing), with my neck craned another direction to peek around someone’s head.  One minute into the movie my muscles were screaming at me.  Three minutes into the movie I was laughing so hard that I felt no pain.  At the end of the movie I was crying.  The movie was “Ice Age”.  The moment when the baby moves from the caregivers who have grown to love him into the arms of his father ripped me apart.  At that moment, the relationship between the child that would be placed in my arms within the next 36 hours and her caregivers became real to me.  I still had no idea how this little girl was going to react, or how she was going to feel.  But at that moment, I could put myself in the shoes of her caregivers.  And those shoes hurt.  To care for a baby for 9 months, to watch that baby grow and change – then to hand that baby over to strangers and not know what happened to that child – well, I personally couldn’t, and still can’t, imagine it.   To this day, whenever I watch that movie (and it did make it to our DVD collection within weeks of returning from China) and see Manny, Sid and Diego grow to care for that baby and then turn the baby over to the father, I still cry.  I cry because I know someone took very good care of that little girl who became the daughter I love.

The movie ended and they put some informational slides up on the screen.  These slides were created by someone who was fired from the Department of Justice.  I know that because those slides are cruel and unusual punishment for anyone who is stuck in a cigar shaped tube, hurtling through the air, miles (not feet – MILES) above the earth.   These slides are maps of the earth.  Specifically they show your originating place and your final destination with a dotted line.  A small “x” illustrates your current location.  It is really, really demoralizing to have watched a 2 hour movie and realize that we only moved 1/4 of an inch on an 18-inch  line.  Finally it was announced that we were over Asia, and then finally China.  I was so excited – we were flying over the country of our soon to be daughter’s birth.  It would not be long before we would land and be able to sit and stand on something that did not shimmy and shake under us.  Man oh man was I so not-informed.  I blame no one but myself.  I honestly had no concept of how massive the land mass of China is.   Not only did I not understand the concept of “feet”, but I think I must have been brain-dead when it came to miles, too.  We flew for another 5 hours before the remaining portion of the line on the map was less than an inch.

Eventually we left  land behind and were flying over water again.  We had to land in Hong Kong before we would take the final flight into Guangzhou.   I watched as the water got closer.   The pilot said we were coming in for the final approach.  There was no land in sight, just water.  We started to descend.  The was still no land.   The mass of water started to develop shapes like waves.  I heard the landing gear being lowered.  We continued to descend.  The waves developed white caps.  Little dots that were visible soon became recognizable as boats.   Not very much later I was able to determine there were people on these boats, and these boats were quite small.  There was still no land visible from my window.  I was beginning to wonder where exactly we were going to land.  In fact, I wondered when the floats were going to inflate along the sides of the plane so we could land in the water.  As our plane continued to drop I was able to discern more and more details about the boats and waves.  Finally, right at the last minute, I saw flashing lights and a shore.  Seconds later we touched down.

I have been through that airport 2 more times, and I still can’t remember it too well.  For some reason my memories of Hong Kong airport are more like snapshots.  I remember people movers down the center of the very long hallways.  The whole airport was remarkably clean – the floors even shone.  The waiting areas at the gate had red upholstered chairs.  They were nominally more comfortable than the ones in our home airport since these were padded.  They were blessedly more comfortable than the airplane seats since we could spread out with seats between us and stretch our legs out.  All of us looked a little worse for the wear – lipstick was gone, make-up was faded, hair was mussed from trying to nap on the plane, bags were forming under our eyes since we had all been up so early to get to Chicago from our various hometowns located throughout the States.   I looked out the floor to ceiling windows.  It was just dusk and the setting sun was making the surrounding mountains silhouettes against the sky.  It looked like a postcard.   I stared in awe of the beauty of the scene, of the sheer foreignness of the shape of the mountains.  It was one of those timeless moments – I was in China,  CHINA!  A country whose history had intrigued me as a child.  A country whose current place in the world was being defined from moment to moment.  A country to which my life would soon be intimately united for the rest of my life.

The boarding call for our final flight of the day was finally heard.  This plane was much smaller.  We smiled at the flight attendants as we boarded, and said hello to them.  They smiled, but did not speak to us.   I was soon to understand why.  We settled tiredly into the seats of the plane,  buckled our seat belts and waited.   It was not a long wait.  The flight attendant picked up the microphone and began giving the safety instructions – in Mandarin.  She then repeated them in Cantonese.  Finally she reached to her side, pressed a button and the instructions blared out in English, in a recorded voice.   We had become the minority.  We had become the foreigners.  And by that time – I was way too tired to care.

The plane took off, ascended to cruising altitude where it stayed for about 15 minutes and started to descend.   After getting off the plane we moved towards customs.  There were young men in green uniforms stationed along the walls carrying automatic rifles.  They looked impossibly young to be guarding the airport.  They were stern-faced until one of us would smile at them.  Then they would grin.   Once it was determined that our visas were in order and we looked vaguely similar to the picture in our passports we plodded down a long, utilitarian hall to baggage claim.   Thank goodness for a beloved husband who picked up our luggage.  Who would think that sitting on an airplane could cause that level of exhaustion.  To our left was the entryway to the main terminal of the airport.   It was incredibly small for such a busy place, but it was late at night and it was fairly empty.  Our agency coordinator was there, waving a flag with the symbol of our agency that matched the pins we wore.  Once she got us all together she herded us out into the night.  The heat and humidity smacked us as we walked out the door.  Fumes stung our noses and lungs.   A skinny, stooped man with deeply wrinkled skin the color of burgundy leather attempted to beg from us.  He was quickly shooed away by our travel guide.   Our guide led us en mass through the driveway, across 4 lanes of traffic and into a parking lot loaded with buses.   I am grateful that I was so tired that I did not understand how death-defying crossing those 4 lanes of traffic actually was.  I very well may have sat down on the curb and cried if I understood exactly what kind of culture shock was awaiting me.  I pulled myself aboard that bus, already soaking wet from the heat and humidity after that very brief walk.  Blessedly they turned on the air conditioner.   After a very long wait while lost luggage for one our families was being searched for, we finally started rolling through the dark.  Traveling down the road we saw darkness give way to flashing neon lights, gorgeous women in vividly colored cheongsams greeting patrons of restaurants, pounding music spilling out of brightly lit establishments, high-rise buildings sparkling in the night, pockets of tiny dark dwellings that appeared to be leaning against their newer counterparts, tiny sub-sub-compact cars zooming by our lumbering bus.  It was sensory overload.  The agency coordinator stood up in front of the bus and picked up the microphone.  She handed out key cards for the hotel, told us a couple of housekeeping items, then said two sentences that infused my body with new energy.  “We have updated reports on your girls.  You will be meeting them tomorrow afternoon”.  This was a full day sooner than we expected.  As the written reports were handed out to each family we hungrily devoured each morsel of information.  The coordinator continued to talk, giving us some information about  Guangzhou. But once those papers touched our hands, she lost the attention of every person on that bus.

About 30 minutes after we started rolling along we pulled up to the front of out hotel.  We stumbled out of the bus to be greeted by men in top hats and red, long-tailed coats offering us a hand.  We entered the hotel to find the entire lobby covered in glistening marble.  We found our way to the elevator and rode up to the 21st floor where we were greeted by a young woman who directed us to our rooms in stilted, heavily accented English.  We opened the door, found the light switch, flicked it on and……nothing.  Flipped the switch again…..nothing.  Finally the sweet floor attendant who greeted us that elevator heard us trying to figure out what was wrong and showed us that the key card had to be placed in a slot to activate the electricity in the room.  The lights suddenly started glaring around the room.   I stopped cold in the doorway. On the other side of the room, on the side of the bed that I normally sleep on, there was a small blue crib with white bedding. My heart stopped momentarily as it absorbed that the dreaming, the paperchasing, the waiting, the praying, the waiting, the hoping, the waiting – were finally over. There was going to be a family born in this room. I could not move to that side of the room. I knew that
if I did, it would all disappear like a mirage. Hubby gently pulled
out the little blanket that we brought for for that long dreamed of little girl and placed it over the end of the crib. Sleep was never so deep and sweet as it was that night, as I dozed off with my hand resting on the crib and
dreamed of the child that was soon to be a reality.

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2 responses to “International Dateline Confusion – an EXTREMELY long post

  1. Oh the memories. Brings it all back.

    Our plane was full of college students returning home for the Christmas holidays. I have never seen so many people able to sleep in so many crazy positions before! Oh to be in your early 20’s again.

  2. Reading this beautiful post, I sit here and cannot imagine the overwhelming wave of emotions you must have been going through. The descriptions of your ‘gifts of the moment’ such as the written reports you received about your little one to the crib in that room made me almost begin to cry. What a gift it is to be able to offer this story for your child. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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