Friday, July 31, 2009

Shenzhen: Banner Day or The Longest Post Ever

Pictures (I don't know the order for sure as we can't access blogger):
view of central Shenzhen from hotel window (Shenzhen is just massive);
Alex and Peter over lunch; Shenzhen traffic; the perfect end to the day.

I knew it was going to be a good day when I saw the breakfast buffet at
the hotel. The Chinese are not big on breakfast, and so finding a
breakfast place outside of your hotel is near impossible in Shenzhen.
So, most travelers who are used to a breakfast of some sort head to the
hotel buffets, and our hotel did not disappoint. First off, we ate in
the executive lounge with 23rd floor panoramic views of Hong Kong and
Shenzhen. And secondly (and maybe most importantly), they had a cheese
buffet. Oh, they had blueberry pancakes, "American" breakfast cereals,
pastries of every variety, an omelet bar, fresh fruit galore, but
people... cheese. I love cheese, and I was silent for long stretches of
time filling up on cheesegloriouscheese.

After breakfast, some errand running and some relaxing, we headed down
to Bret's work to hook up with some of his Chinese counterparts for a
traditional Chinese lunch. Walking the two blocks to the restaurant was
the hottest experience of my life. Every inch of me was wet, and I've
got a lot of inches. And of course, the drink of choice is hot tea, so
I'm sure that made things better.

It's important to note that all of Bret's coworkers (we went out with
four of them in total) speak English. Now one of them speaks near
perfect (and very understandable English), as he went to school in the
UK, and the rest of them speak with varying degrees of skill. I, of
course, am impressed as my Mandarin is limited to "hi," "hi, how are
you?," and "thank you."

But, as we sat down for lunch, letting our fluent guide order for us, I
sat down next to Vicky who had the most limited English of all. I tell
you this because as the food started arriving (it's all on a large
lazy-susan, and you just pick out bite by bite with your chopsticks), I
had to ask Vicky as to the contents of each bowl.

The tofu came first, and it was the best tofu I've ever had. But, I
don't know if that's saying a lot as I really don't eat tofu. Then came
something with red peppers all over it, some kind of meat dish. When I
inquired about the dish, Vicky thought about the English translation
before saying, "It's foot of pig." I was sure I had not heard
correctly, so I waited a few minutes, let more dishes arrive before
asking again, to which the entire group concurred: foot of pig.

Now, I'm trying it all, and foot of pig is no exception. I wouldn't say
that foot of pig is going to be a Sunday night staple in the Hawkins'
home, but it wasn't as bad as I had imagined. I actually liked it
better than the duck and dried/pickled seaweed, but it ranked lower than
the veggies, the noodles or the fish. Everything takes so much work
though, so you end up eating a lot less, just out of sheer exhaustion.
For example, the fish. I was in a large, soupy bowl, and you had to
kind of stab it to get a piece, which isn't necessarily easy with
chopsticks. Then, you have to kind of skin it (all with chopsticks),
and then, as you eat it, you have to pull out all the tiny bones. I
call it the Chinese diet, and I think I should bring it back to the U.S.
in an official capacity.

Okay, all that to say that I had my first experience with a food I was
deeply unsure about, and in the end, I was glad I tried it as my fears
were unfounded.

After lunch, we asked Alex, the best English speaker of all, about a
local foot massage, and he took us to a massage place just around the
corner. I will let Bret blog about that experience, but let's just say
that we paid five dollars for 90 minutes, and every minute was
memorable.

After lunch, we did some shopping in the local markets. I bought a new
bag, purse thingy (5 dollars) and some really, really cute clothes for
Grace (about 7 dollars each). I'm not a big shopper, and I purposed
before coming over here that I would buy Grace a few key items from
China (porcelain from her home province, a jade bracelet, some pearls)
and a few key items for family at home (namely Grant), but that I would
limit my shopping otherwise.

But, as I started shopping yesterday, I realized that the female
shopping gene that has been latent for so long has surfaced. I'm glad
using ATMs in China is painless, and I'm glad I can buy a new suitcase
before we head home.

After an afternoon dip in the pool (which decrankified me), we headed up
to a restaurant near the train station. There are no words to describe
the cab rides in China. I actually do very well flying right by huge
buses or making right turns in front of four lanes of traffic from the
left turn lane. The only part that really gets me is when the cab
driver wants to pass somebody and uses the other side of the road (yes,
the side reserved for oncoming traffic) for his maneuvering. It's like
playing chicken with a bus, as the driver accelerates straight at the
bus, only to dive over in front of the car he was trying to pass at the
very last second. I mean: very last second. That's the only move that
stirs a response in me.

After eating at a British pub (yes, after foot of pig I was ready for
something less adventurous), we headed to the world famous Lo Wu
Commercial City. Imagine a six story mall, and every story has hundreds
of closet sized shops, each selling the exact same thing: purses, shoes,
medicines, wallets, watches, sunglasses, pearls. And every shop keeper
is out in the aisle talking to you the whole time: "you look outside,
try inside," "come in, come in; I make you deal." I have developed a
hierarchy of how I deal with this aggressive form of salesmanship:

1. If you don't talk to me at all, letting me just look in your window,
I'll most likely come in and buy something.
2. If you talk to me incessantly, I'm not coming in to your store, and
I'm not buying anything.
3. If you touch me by grabbing my arm or such, I'm not only not coming
into your store, but I might hurt you.

I don't mind if you want to talk to me, pressure me, follow me around
the mall for several floors before I finally convince you that I do not
want a Prada knockoff, but I do mind when you start grabbing at my arm
or try to push me into your store. I'm a big girl, and I can push back.

Okay, enough said (understatement). We travel today via a 12 hour train
ride to Nanchang, the capital of the Jiangxi province, home to our sweet
baby girl. While we are enjoying our many China adventures, we, of
course, are most excited for the biggest China adventure of all: Grace
MinWei.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New China

I am exhaused! No, I mean I am really, really tired. I averaged about four hours a night for the week leading up to travel, and last night when my head hit the pillow, I thought for sure I'd catch up with at least 7 or 8 hours. So, imagine my surprise when I woke up at 2:30 am, never to return to sleep again. But, in the quiet hours of the morning (quiet except for Bret's snoring which I think is actually illegal in China... or should be), I thought a lot about my first 24 hours in my daughter's home country.

I felt really guilty at first that we had spent the evening in a glittering downtown mall, the type of mall that would be the pride of any big city in the U.S. I came here to see "real" China after all. But, as morning dawned, I had an epiphany of sorts. I did see the real China, the emerging China, the new China. And the reality of a capitalist country with communist roots is starting to become the norm of big city China. I felt odd looking at Crocs in the store or drinking a Starbucks coffee, but those things are becoming a part of China. Shenzhen is not a city that was under British control for 150 years; there are not hoards and hoards of US business men walking around: Starbucks and Crocs are here for the Chinese people, for better or for worse.

China isn't all rice paddies and water buffalo. It is and it isn't the China I always thought it would be: exotic, foreign, beautiful. I guess what it comes down to is that my dear daughter would have experienced some of this new China at some point. She would have encountered fast cars, high fashion, and greed. She's both a part of the old China and the new... and, so, I'm experiencing part of her world.

China is a beautiful place, full of friendly and warm people. But, as old a country as it is, it's also very young, as it trys to emerge into the global marketplace, and so, my visit here is already one of so many contradictions, but it's a glorious ride that has already been the trip of lifetime... well, except for the lack of sleep.

Hong Kong, Day 2... and then the Border

With much cooler and breezier temps than expected, Bret and I headed out into Hong Kong this morning for some very touristy sightseeing. We only had a few hours, and the only thing we wanted to do for sure was grab some dim sum (long time readers know that we are gastro-tourists after all). We checked out Victoria Peak (one of the views from the top is pictured above), which Bret has visited before, checked out the harbor (which keeps moving as land is "added" [also pictured above]) and another shopping district (I think Hong Kong is a shoppers paradise) before heading to our very researched, very well regarded dim sum place. The place was gorgeous and expensive, and we were thrilled.

But, this is where being a fat white tourist in capris and teva sandels doesn't really pay off. We were originally taken in by one hostess... only to be told by another, after a thorough once over, that there was no room at the inn. Disappointed, we headed for a posh-but-willing-to-accept-the-likes-of-us Italian bistro.

After lunch, we headed for the border, which was a painless process. We're in Shenzhen now, and after two harrowing cab rides (which I have learned are not problematic if you do not, under any circumstances, look out the front window), we had some dinner at a local Japanese eatery. The food was yummy, and afterwards, we walked around a very western-looking mall. We're back in the hotel, as I am absolutely exhaused (I mean... REALLY exhausted).

I've realized today that sometimes it is okay just to play the tourist. Usually when I travel, I like to blend in, be local, and eat, stay and play with the locals. But today, in the steamy heat (yes, my glasses fogged up when the morning breeze stopped) of afternoon, Starbucks looked like a great option. I don't want to eat at Pizza Hut or KFC (and most certainly not McDonalds), but don't come between a tired woman and her coffee. Because in the end, I don't blend in anyway here in China.

Tomorrow, we head to Bret's work to go to lunch with his work buddies, and there's a big new spa down the road, so I might just end up getting a massage (or two).

We meet Grace in just a few days, and we couldn't be more excited! Grant, we miss you and love you tons!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hong Kong, Day 1

July 29th, 7 pm, China Standard Time

After minimal crying on my part, I said goodbye to Grant at the airport, as he grandparents whisked him away for an 18 day fun fest that will no doubt return to me a child who has not heard the word "no" in some time. But, in all of his sweetness, he told me he loved me and would miss me, and, essentially, I needed to remember to bring him presents home. That's the trifecta of perfect to a mother of a toddler.

I boarded a plane headed for Newark, which was unremarkable except for the three minute stretch of the worst turbulence I have ever experienced. There were audible screams, swears, prayers and such. I was proud of the calm manner with which I met death in the face: no swearing or peeing of the pants, just some silent praying.

Then, the biggie: I boarded a plane with a direct route from Newark to Hong Kong, a sixteen hour flight. It was long, but not bad, and rather uneventful on all counts, which is how I like flights to be.

For the last several weeks, I have been really busy, so there was an emotion about Grace that had been absent for the last several weeks. I'm not saying that I didn't love her or didn't want to come get her, but I was so busy with all of the stuff to do to come get her (plus dealing with a two year old) that I didn't get the opportunity much to just think about her. But, when the wheels touched down in Hong Kong, all of the hypothetical about Grace became reality, and my eyes welled up, full of emotion for our little sweetheart. It's hard to explain what you do during a four year journey to your daughter: the waiting, the hoping, the disappointment. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that it all seems surreal for a long time... but as I touched down in Hong Kong, the surreal was gone.

Bret and I took the airport express train and transfered to the blue line to experience Causeway Bay, which is like Times Square meets Rodeo Drive. Actually, what Bret said was: "there's a great crepe place (where you load your crepe with 130 kinds of fresh fruit and cream [hello, sign me up in a hurry]) right off the train station. We lugged my stuff up to ground level, but Bret couldn't spot this famous crepe place. So, what did we do? Sure, you guessed it... we ventured out with suitcase into the streets teeming (1.2 billion people, so I mean teeming) with people. I have never been so hot (it feels like there's not enough air for everyone to breathe) in my life. But, that didn't stop Bret. We searched and searched and searched. Finally, I told him I had enough, settled for some expensive sorbet and headed back to the hotel where I ordered some beef (also known as the beef and lots of oil dish) before falling alseep for the night.

Right now, Hong Kong just feels like any other big city. I have been to Chicago countless time, New York quite a few, and let's not forget my California haunts of LA and San Francisco. So, while Hong Kong is glamorous and fast and flashy, I'm excited to head to the mainland, to Nanchang, to see what life is really like for most Chinese people.

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And now, as promised, I am transitioning to stuff only people in the adoption community will care to read:

Contential Flight Review: Newark to Hong Kong

1. If you're not flying first class, the best seats are in row 16: bulkhead. Row 31, which contains exit row and other bulkhead seats are good for leg room, but they are right by the bathroom, and people (lots of people) congregate there. I was in seat 16D, which was as good as it gets.

2. The food was lousy, and I'm not picky. Three "meals" are served, and don't be fooled by the little menu they give you on printed cardstock at the beginning of the flight, a menu that makes you think you're in for culinary greatness. I ate about half of my dinner (the beef had inedible fatty parts and the salad didn't qualify as such) and even less of my breakfast (though the omelet did look better than the dim sum I ordered, but I hate eggs). The best experience with food on the plane consisted of a steamed cheeseburger at around midnight. It was gas station worthy, but it still was the best thing I ate. So, I was glad I had some trail mix. You won't need much in the way of snacks, but I was glad I had something. Oh, and eat lunch in Newark. The C concourse, by the exit gate, has a food court (Ben and Jerry's, McD's, Pizza, Chinese, and a salad place) and a sit down Mexican restaurant.

3. I brought a pair of clean socks. I was wearing sandals, but I think this tidbit goes for those people wearing tennis shoes. I was glad I could take my shoes off and put on a fresh pair of socks. The guy next to me took his shoes off, without a fresh pair, and I paid the price (stinky, people, stinky).

4. The Continental entertainment system is a gem. It saved my butt. I watched four movies (all recent releases), and there were hundreds more I could have watched. It was dreamy. And then, in between movies, I played games on the console: freecell, that blasted reversi (I'm terrible at this game, which just made me mad, so I played for hours until I could beat the computer with consistency), crossword, sudku. I never read a book (I mean, I'm only an English teacher, people), never opened by carry on, and never took out my ipod. These consoles are the only way to fly.

5. I took a small pencil pouch (the flat kind with three rings that attach in binders) that I had purchased for 30 cents at WalMart and filled it with small portions of things found in my carry on. I had a few meds, a few tissues, a pen, a few snacks. And then, I plopped into the pocket in front of me. I never got up to get into my carry-on (except once to put my ipod away after I realized I would not need it). I'm sure a big ziplock bag would do the same thing, but it was a smart move on my part.

6. I wish I had purchased a drink in Newark to take on the plane. There wer multiple times that I was thirsty or needed to take some medicine (or the drink I had ordered with my meal was gone long before the "food" was), and I didn't have anything to drink. I ended up marching back to the galley and asking for some water, but it would have been really nice to have my Gatorade sitting there.

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Okay, that's all I can think of on the flight. We're heading out to Hong Kong this morning before we travel to the mainland tonight.

Grant, we miss you already, love you tons, and can't wait to see you again!

We're one step closer to Grace, and my heart just leaps at the tought of finally holding our little girl.

Back in Hong Kong waitin' fo the wife

So I've wandered my way back to Hong Kong, and now I'm clicking refresh endlessly on the Continental Airlines site, watching Erin's flight descend slowly over Russia towards China.

During this whole trip, I have been having trouble with my ears. It started on the plane when I was using my ear buds with my iPod, and I haven't been able to shake it ever since.

Last night hit a new low though. I lost all hearing in my left ear. I know, based on prior experience, that it's just a wax blockage (eww...I know), but it was HIGHLY irritating. I couldn't hear the cab drivers, I couldn't hear the young lady at the front desk of the hotel, and most importantly, I couldn't hear my iPod any longer.

So I meandered over to the local Walmart in Shenzhen last night, and I tried to explain to the staff there what I was encountering. The girl handed me a little vial covered in Mandarin writing and suggested I pour the contents into my skull. I immediately envisioned one side of my face melting off like that dude at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. So I declined.

Since I was so close to my return to Hong Kong, I decided to just endure it. Man, was it tough. I couldn't hear anything. So the first thing I did when I got to Hong Kong this afternoon was run to the local drugstore (Watsons -- a very Western pharmacy ala CVS or Walgreens) and grab a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. A few drops mixed with some water into my ear, 10 minutes, and voila. I can hear again.

Unfortunately this clearing took place, in part, in the lobby of my hotel. I couldn't quite check-in yet, so I had to wait in the lounge. I wanted to get my hearing back ASAP, so I dumped the solution into my ear while I waited. I then had to sit with my head tilted to one side. Eventually the desk clerk came in and told me my room was ready, and it was obvious that she was concerned about my well being since I spoke to her with my head tilted the entire time. I then boarded the elevator with another couple, head still tilted, and walked to my room. Only there did I turn my head to rinse out my ear. I'm pretty sure if I leave the room, I'll be apprehended.

Sure hope Erin gets here soon. I need some help.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Quick pic

I snapped a quick picture today of the previously discussed dental model at the English school here in China...You may have to click on it to see what I was talking about...Enjoy...

Off to China!

Bret has been in China for a week on business, and now I am joining him. We were so blessed to use his frequent flyer miles to buy my tickets, so this morning, I am boarding a "free" Continental flight that leaves Newark, flies over the north pole, and lands in Hong Kong 16 hours later (the second longest flight in the world). Bret has been on this flight multiple times, so I feel very fortunate to have some of his experience to help me: bring a sweatshirt (it does go over the north pole), watch movies (I'll have my own movie and game console and will be able to pick from hundreds of movies, which if you know me, means I can waste about 12 hours watching mindless chic flics), and don't cry uncontrollably at leaving Grant behind (could end in some air-marshall/crazed-mom standoff).

The mail has been stopped, library books have been returned, and I have a wrapped a special present for Grant for each day we are gone (lucky little dude, eh?). We are ready to do this: bring on the family of four!

On a side note, we plan to post daily in China, but we can't format our blogs, so you're going to get lots of pictures up front, followed by commentary by me (informative) or by Bret (irreverent). We hope to explain the pictures in the commentary, but pictures of the Gracie girl will most likely not need much in the way of explanation. We are sending these blogs via email, so you can expect some formatting issues.

I'll touch base in Hong Kong in 24 hours! Peace out.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Models

One of the things I love over here in China is the western models used on billboards. For example, there are billboards that are probably three stories high on the front of many of the department stores, and invariably they feature at least a few Western looking individuals in amongst the Chinese models. These Western models always look just a little bit off when compared with models you might see in ads in North America. Sometimes their hair isn't quite right or they're REALLY pasty white. Other times they simply aren't very attractive.

My favorite example of this right now is a sign on the front of a school that teaches English. It has a closeup picture of an American guy smiling, holding a textbook in his arms. The only problem is that his teeth look as though he chewed up a bag of concrete just prior to the photo shoot. It's really bad. His teeth literally come to points in several places. Not good.

The other thing I love is the well documented complete abuse of the English language on clothing here. Last night, I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said something along the lines of "This is sign of xsccesful man." Huh? You also frequently see young ladies wearing slogans that they probably wouldn't wear if they understood them. I have to imagine some English speaking college kid someplace putting these phrases on shirts, knowing that they're completely inappropriate. It always reminds me of the line in "The Princess Bride" when Inigo Montoya says "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." That applies to virtually every use of English on Chinese clothing...

If you're the praying type

Or, even if you're not, we could sure use some prayers for our upcoming trip.

Here are a list of our most pressing concerns:

1. For Grace's little heart and her adjustment. We know this is going to be a traumatic time for our little girl (lots of grieving) as she is transplanted out of the only family she knows and forced into the arms of strangers. Please pray that we will have wisdom in dealing with Grace's grief, and please pray that Grace can trust us wholly.

2. For Grace's foster parents. Not matter how you cut it, this has to be difficult for them. Please pray that they will feel the God of all comfort working to ease their pain.

3. For our safety as we travel. We have a lot of travel in China: trains, planes, subways, taxis and buses. Please pray for our safety.

3. For Grant. It's very difficult to leave our little guy for so long, but it's doubly hard to think about being half way around the world should something happen to him. Please pray for Grant's safety and his adjustment upon our return.

We are so thankful for you, our friends and family; we covet your prayers. I was reading a excerpt from Corrie ten Boom, a Christian German who hid Jews in her home during WWII. She had a quote that has been a huge source of comfort to me (paraphrased): "It should be easy to trust an unknown future to a known God."

Above all, I am thankful to our God, who knows and loves us intimately. I know these prayers do not fall on deaf ears.

And just because he's the cutest boy in the whole world, a few parting pictures of Grant being his super silly self:



Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Night at the Movies

Out of boredom, I decided to see what was playing at the local Shenzhen theaters this evening, and lo and behold, the only options in English were the Transformers movie and the latest Harry Potter installment. I decided that I’d see Harry Potter, if for no other reason than I was sure I’d see it with Erin eventually.

The movie itself was unexceptional, in my opinion, but it was nice to kill an evening in an air conditioned environment. I did think it was interesting that I was issued a ticket with an assigned seat. Perhaps with so many people, allowing for “festival seating,” even at the theater, does not work.

The real excitement, if you choose to call it such, of the evening came on the taxi ride into town. I managed to secure a ride with a particularly edgy cabbie, and on two occasions, I actually yelled out in fear. The first time came as a guy began to pull in front of us in a small, yellow car, at which point my cabbie gunned it, narrowly missing the yellow car by inches. The second time came as my cab and a city bus both tried to occupy the same lane, and neither driver wished to give up. This resulted in the bus narrowly missing my door. There is a rule of traffic here that suggests that cabs beat pedestrians and bicycles and busses beat cabs. Apparently my cabbie did not prescribe to this rule.

The cabbie reacted to the situation by getting in front of the bus at the next opportunity and slamming on his brakes, again endangering my life. I looked up at the bus and saw the driver laughing. I was not.

The road into town was jammed with traffic badly, which was making the cabbie even angrier. We crept along for several miles, until my cabbie got an opportunity to run at 80 miles per hour along the concrete barrier in the middle of the road on half a lane. Eventually he was stopped by an orange traffic cone, in front of which was a badly damaged body covered in small part by a sheet. We swerved into another lane and sped ahead with the traffic issue behind us.

I have often thought that people here do not possess a healthy fear of motor vehicles and that there are an awful lot of people riding bicycles and walking in the middle of the highway along the concrete median. The roadway runs right against the concrete barrier, and the taxis and busses frequently swerve at full speed to miss these individuals. Virtually everyone I work with has seen the gory results of these interactions, but this was my first time, and I must say that it sort of wrecked my evening. It was just such a mess, and nobody seemed particularly interested in this poor person in the road. They just put up a traffic cone, half covered the person with a sheet, and then apparently planned to finish the cleanup later. I’m sure the image of this scene will stick with me for a while, and it definitely made me cringe each time my return cab to the hotel swerved to miss a bicycle (often with an unsecured child riding behind his or her parent).

Anyway, three more work days to go, and then Erin joins me. I could not be happier. Even the short break in Hong Kong will feel like a vacation…

We're Getting Hungry

While Daddy is off feasting in China (read post below), I am stuck in a dire situation. Yesterday, I ate prunes and saltines with peanut butter for lunch. Grant ate freezer burned Bagel Bites. Since I am leaving in a few days (and will be gone for weeks), I am refusing to buy any new food, and it's starting to be a bit of a challenge. We do have plenty of milk and juice and yogurt (and thank goodness for Trader Joe's taquitos), but it's going to be a tad bit painful come Monday. But, I'm resolved.

If you know me, you know this is depression era empty. Really, it's nothing more than pickles, banana peppers and jam. And I hate eggs, so don't even go there!


My fruit and veggie bowl: after this lonely nectarine is gone, it's canned pineapple for us.

Uh oh...

I just found the tiniest little Dolce Vita cafe about a block from my hotel. (In China, apparently this is called Dolci & Vita...who knew.) In any case, they had loads of sandwiches and lunch options. Plus they had a massive selection of the best looking desserts I'd ever seen in my life, and everything was under $1 US. My usual weightloss on my trips over here may now be in jeopardy...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dapeng Ancient Town

Today I journeyed out to a Ming-era city about two hours east of Shenzhen called Dapeng Ancient Town (as opposed to the current town of Dapeng, which is referred to as "Dapeng 'Looks Ancient But Is Only A Few Years Old' Town"). Because I believe that it's part of the experience, I decided to take public transportation all the way out to Dapeng. I could have done it in a cab, but spending 2+ hours in a cab just doesn't seem like much fun, although the cost probably wouldn't have been prohibitive.

As it turns out, the bus to Dapeng is not easy to find. I initially took the subway to the main station in Shenzhen – Lo Wu (or Lo Hu depending on who you ask). I had a list of busses that a site online claimed would get me to Dapeng. Only one of these, as it turns out, was available at Lo Wu, so I took it. The Internet lied to me. The #25 doesn't go to Dapeng…it goes back to the Holiday Inn.

An hour later, and I was finally on a bus toward Dapeng. I had initially thought that I would also visit one of the nicer beaches in the area on the way out or back from Dapeng. Xiaomeisha and Daimeisha Beach are both on the way, and Daimeisha even features a big new Sheraton resort. I hopped off the bus at Xiaomeisha, but when I looked down at the beach, it looked like a log had been turned over and millions of ants were scattering off of it. The beach itself looked lovely, but I didn't feel up to that much of my fellow man, so I hopped on the next bus to Dapeng.

I have to mention that the bus ride along the cost was quite beautiful, but it was hard to take in while screaming. If you thought a cab in China was scary, a ride in a bus along a cliff is far worse. At multiple points the road went to one lane, and the busses would play chicken with each other on the cliff. I think I left a little Dapeng in my shorts…if you catch my drift.

Once I reached Dapeng, I realized it was 1:00pm, and there was a KFC staring me in the face. What I've learned on these trips is that I'm a very adventurous eater…for about 3 days. Then I have to take a break and eat something that isn't staring me down. After KFC, I took yet another bus to the Ancient Town.

The ruins of the town are situated within the original four walls and towers, all of which were quite impressive. I was a little disappointed to discover that virtually none of the signs describing the history of the town were in English. This led me to have to do quite a bit of imaginative interpretation, which kept me occupied during my journey. Who knew that the Kongs of Hong could be so unsuccessful in attacking the coast of Dapeng in an effort to steal its vast supply of electric scooters and pointy hats? But I digress.

The most shocking thing about Dapeng was that the walled city is still completely inhabited. In amongst the historic plaques are hundreds of small homes. It was a good reminder of how good we have it back in dear old Indiana. These folks live in places that I wouldn't have guessed were inhabitable, yet the kids were playing in the streets and many of the ladies smiled and waved as they hung their laundry out to dry. The conditions were truly abhorrent, and I read later online that China is trying to figure out what to do with these people who are living in a historical site that the government now wants to restore.


After leaving Dapeng, I made the long journey back to my hotel. After a quick shower and Tsingtao, I walked over to Pizza Hut. That's right. KFC and Pizza Hut in one day. I'll do better tomorrow. The Pizza Hut was actually pretty interesting, in that it bore little resemblance to an American store. The menu was different, the servers were dressed as thought it was a 5 star restaurant, and there were at least 4 servers circling my table at all times…not one with a pierced lip or discernable attitude problem.

Now it's off to bed. Tomorrow I'm going to take it easy. My feet and back have one good long day per weekend, so tomorrow may involve reading a book in a local park. Only three weeks to go…

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ni Hao, Y'all!

So I said I would blog a lot from China, but it just isn't happening. The problem is that blogging from China is now much tougher since they, uh, turned off our blogging site. So my only access is to email these posts in, which is prone to lots of spelling and grammer mistakes (not to mention me saying things that should have been edited out), so please bear with me.

It has occurred to me on this trip that Chinese folks are simply much closer to their food than Americans. Where we prefer our food processed to the point of chicken's having hypothetical body parts called "nuggets," the Chinese would much prefer to actually recognize what they're eating, right up to the point where the put it into their mouths. The fish has the head, the chicken still has the beak and claws, and the baby pig still has its eyelashes (and probably its nuggets). My co-workers tried to get a chicken foot in my mouth at lunch today, but I would have none of it.

After work, I ventured over to the Shenzhen train station to buy tickets for Erin and I to travel to Nanchang next week to pickup Grace. I had the train selected, I had the dates, and I had the type of seat I wanted. I went to the first counter, said "English?" and the kind young lady behind the glass yelled something akin to "Get off my lawn!" and pointed at the next counter.

I went to the next counter. I handed the girl a slip of paper with my order and asked, "Do you speak English?"

"A little" she replied, albeit shakily. She immediately looked back at me and said, "No soft seats." I said, "But this is for tickets for next weekend...not today."

"No soft seats."

Crud. I called Erin. She gave me three other trains to check.

"No soft seats" (said with slightly more venom this round).

Erin began researching hard seats on the Internet. Since the average Chinese dude purchases a hard seat, I couldn't imagine it being THAT bad. But then she read stuff about it being standing room only...people sitting on the floor...urine...etc, and we decided that wouldn't work. The problem was that it took half an hour of us arguing about it on the phone to come to that conclusion, all the while I'm standing in front of the train station with 2,000,000,000 of my fellow man staring at me because, well, I was there.

Eventually we decided that a sleeper cabin was the way to go. We kissed and made up on the phone, and I headed back in to talk with my old friend, the ticket girl.

"OK. I want this original train, but I want a soft sleeper instead."

She nodded. This was going well. She then asked if I wanted a top and bottom bunk. I replied that two bottoms would be ideal, and she told me to get out. I took a top and bottom. Hopefully we'll still get to watch a lot of the countryside go by...and all without the horror of having someone sit (or pee) on our laps.

After the train adventure, I set out for dinner. I went to the Chinese equivalent of a Benihana. Do you know what will draw the attention of a table full of Chinese people away from the guy twirling the knives and cooking the rice? A fat, single white dude at the end of the table in a T-shirt and shorts trying to figure out how to cut a chicken breast in half with a pair of chop sticks.

Tomorrow it's off to Dapeng Ancient Town and Xiaomeisha Beach. Should be a hootenanny.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grant Interview

Thoughts on Grace, China and presents...
video

Sibling Rivalry

Today is a mass cleaning project; I mean like Jewish cleaning before Passover kind of cleaning. I want to come home from China to a house that's spotless. In the process of cleaning today, I've also pulled out some necessities for baby Grace (high chair, play pin, baby toys), and I bet you can guess who is none-to-happy about Gracie inheriting these items. We've had some real acting out today, as the reality of sharing life with another kid becomes one notch more clear to Grant.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hard Day

Not only is Bret gone, but I woke up with a splitting headache, and the darn thing hasn't eased up. Then, you throw in an overly energetic two-year-old (are all two-year-old boys like this?) who thinks yelling is "using his inside voice," and you have the makings of an afternoon where Advil is abused at dangerous levels.

I might have to call in the reinforcements tonight. NeNe and Papoo... come play with Grant. Mommy needs a nap!

The Packing List

Bret is in Hong Kong... safe and sound. Okay, well safe. He's of questionable mind and spirit. We skyped a few minutes ago, and even over the fuzzy computer picture, I could tell he was one tired pup.

Transition.

The China adoption community has been a real lifesaver for me over the years. There have been countless blogs read, countless emails shared, and many a tear cried together.

Bret can vouch that--since we have received our referral--I have gone into hyper-drive. I read countless blogs and listservs looking over packing lists, gift ideas and other's experiences in Nanchang and Guangzhou.

So, for the sake of future people like me, I am going to provide a detailed description of things that only matter to people in the China adoption community. I'm going to provide details no other human being on the planet will care a thing about, and I'm not kidding. I'm going to label these "China trip," and I'll make it clear in a post when I am moving from stuff family and friends might be interested in reading (or seeing; you know you only care about pictures) to the China adoption stuff (like how quickly prunes worked on Grace, how many blocks we walked to find a western toilet, and how much each and every purchase cost). This detail might prove interesting to Grace someday, but for now, I hope it helps one person who has yet to travel to China.

So, HERE IS THE TRANSITION TO BORING STUFF FOR EVERYONE BUT PEOPLE WHO ARE ADOPTING FROM CHINA:

We are packed and ready to go. Bret and I are both taking 4 outfits, two pairs of comfy shoes, a swimsuit, necessary toiletries (but not things like shampoo or lotion that we can buy there), and a "hotel room outfit" that consists of gym shorts and a shirt for just relaxing around the room. We plan on doing laundry daily if need be.

Here's the list for baby Grace (every outfit packed in its own ziplock bag):
8 outfits
1 sweater
2 pjs
Hair clips
5 Socks
1 Swimsuit
5 Swim Diapers
Hat
Sunscreen
2 Ultra thin blankets
2 Burp cloths
6 regular diapers
One thing of travel wipes
Changing Pad
Toys: stacking cups, book, mirror toy, inflatable ball
Teething gel
Baby Tylenol
Baby Advil
Baby Benadryl
Eating Bib
Teething Bibs
2 Bottles
2 Nipples
Soap cloths for washing bottles
Bottle brush
Baby Prunes
Puffs/Cherrios (one canister only)
Ergo carrier (BRET)
Thermos
Pacifier and hook
Formula divider
Sippy cup
2 Baby spoons
Steroid cream for skin infection/diaper rash
Thermometer
Baby shampoo
Nasal aspirator
Baby mucinex
Strap highchair
Extra Ziplock bags
Small diaper bag (purse)
Some stuff packed in Tupperware for use

All of Grace's stuff (except for the Ergo) fit in half of my suitcase. We assume we can buy anything else we need. If you have any questions about my packing list, do not hesitate to contact me. I'll let you know at the end of the trip if there were things I did not need or things I couldn't find (so wish I had packed).

Bret and I are each taking a rolling duffel like suitcase (that can be worn as a backpack too) and a carry-on backpack. We had lots of extra room in each, so we'll be able to bring home some goodies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

And so it begins...

Well I'm sitting here at the airport, full on my Cafe Patachou omelette, waiting for my flight to Minneapolis. This is the beginning of my trip to China to a) work and b) pick up my daughter, Grace. In almost 24 hours exactly, I'll arrive in Hong Kong, sweaty, stinky, and in dire need of a toothbrush.

It was a hard morning. I'm OK once I'm in China, but packing and leaving is always tough, especially when I'm going to be away from Grant for so long. It does help that Erin will be joining me in a week, but I still have a week of work in Shenzhen prior to her arrival.

I'll try to post frequently while we're in China. I've set our blog up so that I can email posts in, but I'm not sure how the pictures will turn out. So if things look a little funky, that's why. As faithful readers know, my trips to China always make for good blog fodder, so check back frequently.

Here's one last little tidbit from Grant. This morning on the way to the airport, Grant was listing all of the things he's going to teach Grace to do. What was the first one? "I'm going to teach Gracie to drop big bombs" -- Grant-speak for his bathroom activities. That's my boy...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Other Baby News

Congrats are in order to our friends Micah and Carter Bell, our friends who welcomed their new baby girl (Campbell Jane) into the world. She's beautiful, guys.

Consulate Appointment

We have firm travel dates, and we have our final consulate appointment booked; we'll have little miss Grace in our arms on August 2. Let the countdown begin!

Friday, July 17, 2009

We have TA: We're going to China, baby!

We received our Travel Approval (TA) today, and we couldn't be happier. Bret leaves next week for some early business over in the People's Republic, and I'm following shortly thereafter. I will spend TWO days getting to China, and then, we will spend a day in Hong Kong, a day in Shenzhen (where Bret works), and then we'll train to Nanchang, the capital city of the Jiangxi province, Grace's home province. We are excited beyond measure that we'll have Gracie in our arms in SIXTEEN days.

More to come: including videos of Grant, new information about Gracie, an explanation of why our blog suddenly includes things like packing lists, and much, much more. But, for now, we've got to get our butts in gear.

Oh, and if anyone knows how to lose 50 pounds in two weeks, let me know.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Grace Picture!

Such a cutie!!!!! She's about a year old in this picture (so it was taken just a few weeks ago).

Password = Joke

We have several computers running Windows here at work, and following our move over the past few weeks, we've discovered that nobody knows the login passwords to these machines.

At our old building, these particular machines were never turned off, but we had to turn them off to move them. Once we got to our new site, we turned them on only to discover that the holder of the password left the company long ago.

So I set out to figure out how to deal with these things. My initial thought was that I'd have to put in new hard drives, install a new copy of Windows, and start from scratch, but I did a little Internet work, and here is what I discovered.

In under two minutes of searching, I was able to find a program claiming to remove the passwords for me, which I downloaded and burned on CD.

Two minutes later, I booted up with this CD, and approximately one minute later, I had removed the passwords on the first computer. You must be joking.

You mean to tell me that I have to create a new password every 3 minutes, and it has to be approximately 35 characters long and include at least 3 "x's" and all of these -- $*)ß↔íù at least once, only so any half wit with an Internet connection could come in with a CD and bypass it? Nice.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Will someone PLEASE sell me gas?

Yesterday, I took my car out during lunch for a fill up. I whipped around the corner to the closest gas station and discovered that half of the pumps were marked "Out of Service." The other pumps were full, so I pulled in behind some dude filling his car, preparing to wait a few minutes to get gas.

After I watched the guy for maybe two minutes, he starts waving at me and saying, "It's not pumping anything!" Great. I pull out of the gas station and head down the street.

I next pulled into a gas station attached to a grocery store. This one featured a discount if you used your "Give me the real price, not the inflated one, dammit" customer loyalty card. I pushed my loyalty card into the slot, and it said, "Please reswipe card." I did. It denied me like a fat kid looking for a prom date. I tried approximately three more times. No luck.

I then tried holding the card under the little bar code reader, and immediately a big, red "OK" light alerted me that I would, indeed, be getting gasoline today. I put in my credit card. "Please swipe again." I tried again. "Go see attendant."

I swore. A car was waiting for me to finish, so I hollered that "The stupid thing won't give me gas," and the lady laughed and moved to another aisle.

I approached the gas station attendant booth, and a rather dim looking individually simply stared out at me. No greeting. No "What?" No "Do you need something?" Nothing.

"The pump told me to contact the attendant. Here I am."

Dim child looks at me and chuckles...CHUCKLES...in that way that people who've recently smoked a joint laugh and sort of tip their head back, not really cognizant of their surroundings.

"I don't know, man" is his response. And then he chuckles again.

What the heck? What does that mean? "I don't know, man." Do you not understand that YOU'RE the attendant? Do you not understand that the economy is weak, and ain't nobody gonna give YOU another job? Do you know what gas is? Do you not understand the words coming out of my mouth?

Rather than fight, I just turned and walked away. I gave him no response. I just turned, got into my car, and drove across the road to the next gas station. Gas station number 3.

At gas station number 3, I put in my credit card, the pump accepted my money, and before I could pickup the handle, a kind voice greeted me: "Welcome to McClure." It wasn't too syrupy, and it actually sounded sincere. I turned to look at the attendant booth, and a young gentleman, approximately the same age as the moron at the previous station, looked out and gave a quick wave.

I simply said, "Thanks..." and proceeded to pump my gas. I considered how much more likely I'll be in the future to return to station number 3. I like to reward good service, even if I'm only making a tiny impact. Perhaps I'll write a letter to the other station suggesting that they'd be better served if the station attendant I encountered didn't interact with the public so much...perhaps he could be recommissioned as a parking stop or a traffic cone. Just ideas...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom!

This is very dangerous for me. My wife informs me on a regular basis that I have a strange way of turning compliments into critique or satire. This is probably true, but what fun is having a blog if I can't skewer the ones I love?

With that, I'd like to wish my mom a happy birthday today and relate some memories I have of my mother from my childhood.

One of the things I love about having a son is the unbridled enthusiasm he shows for the mundane. I possess a rather remarkable ability to make even the most exciting things seem mundane, a trait handed down from my mother. It's always been very difficult to draw a sense of excitement out of my mom, and once it was achieved, the only outward sign was that she'd raise her eyebrows just a little bit. That was what you got.

As you can see from this picture taken a couple of weeks ago, my mom has little enthusiasm for sitting in the rain watching a 4th of July parade. My wife and aunt were slightly more amiable.

Now don't get me wrong -- I always knew in my heart that my mom was more excited about things than she let on, but it just wasn't in her nature to burst with happiness at, well, anything. Grant's arrival came pretty close. And I suspect the arrival of two more grand-kids in the next few months will ring her bell. We'll see.


So I watch Grant with great joy as he reacts to things. Last week we babysat two little girls for a friend of ours. Grant was in seventh heaven showing them all his toys and trains. (In just a few more years, some of his means of expressing himself to the ladies will become punishable offenses. Enjoy these freebie years while you can, son.)

I came down the stairs at one point to hear him showing off, with great enthusiasm, the new coffee maker I'd purchased the night before. It's nothing special. It's just a new coffee maker. No cappuccino or espresso, just coffee. But because I'd shown an interest in it, Grant was showing an interest in it, which made me smile.

"Did you guys see our new coffee pot? Isn't it CUTE!?!" Indeed it is, Grant. Indeed it is.

As a young child, my mom also provided me a great sense of safety and contentment that only a mother can provide. My memory extends back to when I was about three years old (in sharp contrast to Erin's which extends back about three weeks...she can't actually remember what high school she attended or where she left her car).

I can remember sitting in my mother's lap watching cartoons on channel 40, and I'm certain that at the time, I was sure that there was nothing that could go wrong in the world. I was completely safe and at ease, because I was with my mom.

I think about those moments a lot when Grant is sitting with me, and we're watching Peter Pan or reading his books about cars. I hope he feels that same sense of safety that my mom provided me, and I hope it's something I'm able to provide him with for a long time to come.

So happy birthday, mom! May God bless you with many "2 for 1" coupons and low priced gasoline for many years to come!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chivalry is not dead!

As faithful reader readers may remember, Grant was not too fond of adding sister Grace to the mix. He often would pray for her, but then in the next breath say something akin to "I don't want her in my family." He was territorial about toys and parents, and he did not like anyone bringing up the subject of our burgeoning family.

But, all of that changed. I know this is going to sound crazy, but we have Disneyworld to thank for Grant's new found love for his sister. You see, up until our back-to-back Disneyworld/Disneyland adventures, Grant's television viewing included the PBS line-up: Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog, to name a few. But, after Disneyworld, we watched Peter Pan, a movie that forever changed the course of Grant's life. I have my issues with Disney movies (a bitter post for another time), and I happen to have real issues with Peter Pan as a heroic character, but that--too--is not the point.

The point is that early in the movie (for those of you who haven't seen it 74 times like I have), Wendy starts to fall from the sky (the "danger ahead" aspect is not found in the toddler PBS genre). And, that moment is when our little hero was born. He snatched her up in his hands, proclaimed to the world that he had saved her, and developed a keen fascination with saving the damsel in distress. We went to the library to find a Peter Pan book, and we read the story again and again and again. But, Grant gravitated to one page: the page with Wendy falling. He'd sit by the page (the book pages had to touch his leg) for hours (not exaggerating); he'd sleep with the book open to that page.

But, then our Disney viewing did not end. Each week we'd go to the library to find another movie, and over the course of the week, we'd watch another film, and if there was someone who needed to be saved, Grant was the man for the job. Now, if a woman is crying in a commercial or a small blond girl starts to cry at the park, Grant transitions into hero mode and trys to swoop in to save the day.

So, tell him that his sister does not have a family and is need of someone to help her, and guess who answered the call?

Grant now spends HOURS a day carrying around these "women" in his hands (let's not visit the potential imagery of trapping these women in some male-dominated hero complex). I like to think that my son is learning that he has a special opportunity to care for, to nurture, and to even protect the women in his life. Now, it's on to opening doors and buying flowers on non-holidays.

Here are just a few of the many pictures we have of Grant protecting Wendy (or Cinderella... or Snow White... or "Anastasia from that evil Rasputin."


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Breakfast


Grant's not a big eater, and he almost never eats breakfast (despite my constant attempts to the contrary), so this morning, when he told me he was "really hungry in my belly, Mommy," I thought I would take advantage of the situation.

I offered Grant slices of apple (one of his favorites), which he declined. Instead, he came over to my ear and whispered, "No, Mommy; I want chocolate instead."

That's my boy!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Adoption Talk


Today as we checked out of the grocery store, a conversation started with Grant about Gracie (I was buying diapers for her, so she was on his mind):

Grant: We're going to adopt Gracie.
Me: Yes, you're right. We are going to adopt her. Are you adopted?
Grant: No.
Me: Yes, you are. We didn't have to go to China to get you, but you are adopted too.
Grant: Are we going to adopt Drew Michael (my sister-in-law's soon-to-be son)?
Me: No, Grant. Aunt Rachel and Uncle Troy are going to be Drew Michael's parents.
Grant: Will he come out with clothes on?
Me: No, Grant. He lives in Aunt Rachel's belly, and he's going to come out naked as a jaybird.
Grant: We should buy him some clothes.

Indeed, Grant, we should. It's interesting how Grant continues to grow in his questions about who he is, how he fits into our world, and the genesis of our little family. We just talk about Grant's adoption often, so that when the time comes that the discussion doesn't turn into fashion concerns for the unborn, Grant will be comfortable.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Limestone Heritage Festival Parade


As many of you know, my family on both sides is originally from Bedford, a small town in southern Indiana. The town was once known primarily for its limestone quarries, having provided the stone for many of the buildings in Washington D.C. and New York. Today, the town is probably known more for factory closures and the occasional incineration of a local landmark, but that obviously hasn't damped the spirits of the community. For on each 4th of July, they still have their Limestone Heritage Festival, including a parade, ice cream social, and concert -- this year featuring local jazz favorites, "The Residue."

We'd been to the fireworks and festival previously, but we hadn't gotten a chance to visit the parade. So this year, we braved the foul, rainy weather to see "floats" (usually the bed of a pickup truck) featuring local institutions like this here dumpster truck.

If you have a keen eye, you'll notice the reconditioned Marathon gas station behind the dump truck. It's deceptively simple to turn "Marathon" into "Smoke Shack." Here's a better picture from the start of the parade:

The parade also featured local square dancing troupe, the "Squares and Rounds." They didn't seem the least bit bothered by the rain or the new millenium:


But my favorite part of the parade was the Shriners and their funny little cars. I could watch big men in funny little cars all day.

In all seriousness, we actually had a great time at the parade, despite the constant drizzle. My cousin Mary watched Grant during a large portion of the parade, and now he is completely infatuated with her. I suppose she'll be able to get through high school with the little dude attached to her leg.

Erin and I were talking on the drive home about the things you miss when you don't live in a small town. Our little suburban town used to have an actual "downtown" until CVS and Walgreens decided it would look better with two identical pharmacies rather than the original historic buildings. I realize that people who live in small towns have their issues with them, but for the rest of us, there's something endearing about walking up the block and running into your neighbors while waiting for the town insect fogging truck to go by on the parade route. Perhaps I'll be able to instill a small town sense of community in my kids without actually having to become a square dancer. Time will tell...

Friday, July 03, 2009

Eat the Beater

It's finally cool enough to turn the oven on (when it's over 85, I don't even open the curtains), so we decided to bake some cookies. Grant loves to bake with me, and I love to bake, so we're a good team. Really, Grant just likes to eat brown sugar lumps, scoop flour from the bowl to the floor, and eat the beater at the end of the process, but when you're two, baking shouldn't be about unsalted butter, real vanilla extract, and fluted edges.
video

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Copier

Last week, my office moved to a new location, and I'm now in a true office environment rather than a lab environment for the first time in my professional career (a career in which I use the word "professional" in the same way the Clippers are a "professional" basketball team).

In fact, my new cube stares directly at one of the two printer/faxer/copier/aggrivator machines in our office. Initially disappointed that I'd have to listen to the beeps and chirps emitted by the copier all day, I positioned my monitor such that I can stare out at the copying world without them realizing I'm reading espn.com at 9am.

What I have quickly discovered is that I actually have the best seat in the house. People behave in extremely bizarre ways when they are outsmarted by a machine, and I can now chronicle these events in this blog while they are actually occurring!

For example, yesterday I watched an individual place a document in the feeder and begin typing on the copier keypad. He was apparently transcribing the first 100 pages of Moby Dick, a beep emitting with each keystroke. After several minutes of typing and staring, he leaned back and confidently slammed the green, backlit "START" button. The machine proceeded to warm-up briefly and then do nothing.

It was brilliant. I couldn't have made the situation any more pleasurable if I myself had been controlling the copier's response. What was even better was that the individual went through the entire process a second time (using the same procedure, no doubt) and got the same result a second time.

Another thing I quickly learned is that copier manufacturers have had to wise up about helping people remove jammed articles from the copier bowels. Our new copier has step by step guides that walk you through what colored lever to pull and which way to turn which knob to get your latest paperwork out during a misfeed.

As I watch people down on all fours trying to follow these instructions, frequently unsuccessfully, I imagine the copier quietly beckoning, "Closer...closer...closer..." before latching onto their victim and hosing them down in toner. Surely I can rig this up...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Care Package

My visa is in process; we've sent in our paperwork, so the next logical step: shopping for the baby girl. We sent miss Gracie MinWei a care package today complete with a photo album of all of us back home, a blanket, the elephant above, all kinds of goodies for her foster family and two disposable cameras (which we hope to get back with pictures)!

I have a few posts in the works about Grant, so stay tuned.