Thursday, June 25, 2009


The camera cord has surfaced so here's a recap of the last week...

At the Point Defiance Zoo in Seattle with Grandma Lora:
Grandma Lora

Checking out the peacock:

Caught in the web:
Caught in the Web

Swinging in the park:

Riding my bike:
Riding My Bike

Learning to play with stickers (she still hasn't figured out they go on paper):
Playing with Stickers


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back Among the Living

We are nearly unpacked from the trip. However, the cable for the camera has yet to emerge - thus no photos. You'll just have to be satisfied with words on this Fathers Day.

An has been adapting fabulously to life in Idaho. The first afternoon we were home, she started exploring her room and toys and just loves anything that plays music. Her leapfrog caterpillar (which has the ABC's on it) is by far her favorite and it almost always has to be in the same room as she is. It definitely has to be under the bed while she sleeps so that she can be sure it will be there the next morning.

The first full day home we tried out her bike and by the next afternoon she had it mastered. Last night we took a long walk by the ponds in our neighborhood and she rode the whole way. With bursts of giggles from time to time to signify her excitement with going "fast" or seeing the ducks and geese or running into a mailbox - she likes it all.

She also loves soccer. During our first shopping trip, Brian showed her a soccer ball and a basketball and asked her to choose. She went for the soccer ball and now we kick it back and forth in the yard. She is amazingly coordinated in my mind. I really don't know how coordinated 4 year old's should be, but she can do a running kick and doesn't have to stop the ball before kicking it back at you. I can assure you that I could not do that at 4.

We've settled into a really nice routine and typically go out for a few hours each morning or afternoon. Otherwise, we stay around the house and park. She just loves to meet people and is learning to play with her friends Mollie and Audrey. Today, her Ong and Ba Noi return from Vietnam as they've been touring through the country since a few days before we left. She's excited to see them again.

What a glorious honeymoon! We've had a few 4 year old temper tantrums but they are typically matched to her level of tiredness. We don't expect it to last forever, but we are eating it up right now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jetlag miserable.

More later,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back in the US

We are happy to be back in the US. Not home yet as we stayed the night in Seattle but we will be soon.

An and I woke up around 3am after going to bed at 11pm. She slept most of the flight from Taipei to Seattle so she has an excuse. I did not. I'm sure it'll take a couple of days to get back on Mountain time.

Brian, of course, is still sleeping.

Anyway, Grandma Lora greeted us at the airport with a big teddy bear for An. An was thrilled! Then we got to come back to the hotel room to play with Kira, Lora's dog, which sent An over the edge with excitement. She threw the ball for Kira, tried to give her hugs (while Kira tried to avoid them) and just squealed with excitement. Chester and Murphy are in for it...she's going to love them to death!

Well back to reruns of the Nanny and Tool Time - TV is such a wonderful thing at 4am...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Signing off from Vietnam

Well this is it...we are packing up and winding down for the evening. Tomorrow morning we'll catch a taxi to the airport at 9am to start our journey home. It's a good thing since today An decided she was done with having her picture taken:


You might notice in the picture that Brian decided to shave off his mustache and beard today. Interesting is all I'll say.

Tomorrow we fly to Taipei, spend about 8 hours there before boarding our flight to Seattle. Then Lora picks us up at the airport in Seattle and we spend the evening and morning with her before continuing on to Boise. We look forward to seeing everyone soon!


PS - yes, we finished the shopping and no, I did not enjoy it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Evidence and Musings on Shopping

Since I didn't get a picture last night of our waiter feeding An her clams, I was sure to take one tonight of the 5 waitresses she charmed.


We went back to KOTO which is a non-profit that takes street children and teaches them culinary, service and English skills so that they can get jobs to support themselves. They don't just teach them to cook Vietnamese street food...but Vietnamese and Western food that would rival any gourmet restaurant in the US. Brian had seafood dish tonight that he said was the best he's ever had (and it was about $8). Anyway, the waitresses were all vying for An's attention and were holding her smoothie when she wanted a drink, feeding her fish and french fries and then carried her around while feeding her a dish of ice cream. At the end of the meal, we ordered a dark chocolate mousse for dessert and they took off with An to introduce her to the rest of the staff.

Thankfully we'd been forewarned that the staff in restaurants would take your child and hold/play with them while you ate. Tonight she was gone for about 20 minutes and when the staff sensed that we were getting nervous, they came over and said she was downstairs with more of the staff. When we walked down, there were probably 7-8 talking to her and stroking her hair. Truly a wonderful place - both for the food and the people. If you are ever in Vietnam, KOTO is a must.

Speaking of good causes, check out the blog of the family that adopted An's foster sister - Her dad is the executive director of a wonderful organization that works to end child sex slavery and exploitation. Apparently Stephen Baldwin has selected Love 146 as his charity of choice on a reality show. I hardly watch TV at all so I can't tell you about the show, but if you call a toll free number or vote by email for Stephen, Love 146 receives money to carry out thier work. We're a fan of An's foster sister's family so if you can take a moment to read his post, please do so.

Now about the shopping. I'm just not cut out for it. I know that there are screaming good deals to be had here, but it just exhausts me to shop. This morning we went to the Dong Xuan market and probably didn't spend more than 10 minutes in there. There were so many people and everything was just in big piles and I just can't do it. So then we wandered the street of the Old Quarter, but that was exhausting too. Finally, because KOTO is next to the Craft Link store (a fair trade store that works with the ethnic minority groups) we stopped in there before dinner. I'm just overwhelmed with all the options. It is all beautiful and I can't decide what to buy. I have some more shopping to do tomorrow morning and I have to say I'm not looking forward to it...

Off to bed for a good nights sleep before our last day in Hanoi!

Forgot One Photo Last Night...

For all you "experienced" moms out there anything wrong with letting your child eat a bowl of clams for dinner? A whole bowl of clams? She really likes them...

This picture show's An squatting on her chair (so she could get closer to the clams) at one of our favorite restaurants, Quan An Ngon, a few nights ago. We learned that she liked them on the Halong Bay trip. She had another bowl last night and was so charming that she had the waiter feeding them to her. It was adorable...but unfortunately we didn't get a picture.

The clams cooked with lemongrass costs 38,000d. That's about $2. I think we'll keep feeding them to her while we are here because they get rather expensive in Idaho.

Eating Clams

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Busy Days

Bob and Judy left this morning to head south through Vietnam before flying home on Sunday the 21st. As Brian mentioned, they headed to Sapa a few hours after returning from Halong Bay so we only had Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday to do everything else they wanted in Hanoi. Thus no posts because we've been going a million miles a minute. So, to get you up to date...

On Monday, we had a low key day and hung around the hotel swimming and having fun. An finally decided she wanted to explore what we brought for her and she wanted me to do it with her - we had to take everything out of the closet and she was really excited about the sunglasses and jeans:

Finally Checking out My Stuff

Tuesday, we had our "interview" at the US Embassy and got An's visa to enter the US. She's official now - the minute we land in Seattle, she becomes a US citizen. It was a breeze, they asked us if our application was correct and to sign a few things at the window and that was it. We didn't even have to go into the interview room.

On Wednesday morning, I headed to the airline office to see if we could get earlier flights. They said there was no availability so I went ahead and purchased An's ticket home (I wasn't able to buy it before showing them her passport and visa - it was being held and that's probably the one thing that has made me the most nervous on this trip...what a relief to have proof that she was on the flight with us). That afternoon, we went to the One Pillar Pagoda and the Museum of Ethnology. Both were beautiful places. In this picture, Brian decided to take An up to the Bahnar communal house:

Ethnology Museum

He may not have been thinking about coming back down:
Getting Down

That evening we went to the water puppet theatre which was truly amazing. I know An got much more out of it than us since she could understand it (it was in Vietnamese of course) but it was a great experience. She pretended to conduct the music for most of the show. They even had a segment that showed Bob fishing:


This morning, Bob and Judy packed up and headed to Hue. Bob found a way for us to get An around in the airports:


After breakfast, we took the hotel shuttle to the Big C - a grocery/department store. It was an experience! The music in the store was deafening. I was happy to head back. When we got back we had a message that we will be able to fly home on Sunday. I was able to easily shift our Seattle-Boise segment so we'll be arriving on Monday instead of Wednesday now. We really do love it here - our only complaint is the heat and humidity - but we will be happy to get home!

One last picture of An and Brian - very hip on the streets of Hanoi:
Cool - On the Streets of Hanoi


Monday, June 8, 2009

Wendi's Photo Story of Halong Bay

Rice field between Hanoi and Halong Bay - the 3 ladies asked us if we wanted to help

Our junk boat - the Hai Long Dream

Quick family photo at the start of the trip
Family Photo on the Junk Boat

An's lunchtime "phone call"
An using her soup spoon as a phone

Floating city
Floating City

Checking out the view
At the Captian's Nest

Riding the dragon with Grandpa
Riding the Dragon with Grandpa

Beauty Times Two


Surreal Scenery
Surreal Scenery

View from Surprise Cave

An watching a card game and eating lychee
Watching a Vietnamese Family Play Cards While Eating Their Lychee

Hanging out - literally

Telling our guide a story
Telling our Guide a Story

Brian's Novel on Halong Bay

Our trip to Halong Bay begins even before we arrived to board our ship; honestly it started in the lobby of our own hotel. We were greeted in the lobby by a very nice gentleman with very good English language skills. He and An quickly became fast friends and was a wealth of information about the area around our hotel and in general as we traveled from Hanoi to Halong Bay. Not to be out done we were matched with a driver with the skills of Mario Andretti and his spacious pace car. While our guide would explain the country side our driver would expertly pass busses, trucks, and cars at high rates of speed (usually 80 kmh and above) with a nonchalant look as if this was simply practice for something more challenging to come. The road down was very deceiving as it looked very flat but was full of bumps, and apparently our pace car of a van was outfitted with the motor of a Porsche but the shocks of a farm tractor. Somehow An managed to grab a bit of sleep as she sat sleeping on my lap with her head bouncing all over my chest.

On the way to Halong Bay we stopped for about 30 minutes at a school/shop where young adults in the trade skills would make and then sell their wares. There was a variety of everything; bowl, plates, sculptures, clothes, musical instruments, toys, and a big selection of jewelry. An was upset when we made her leave the musical instrument section but was quickly placated when grandpa showed her a cat. This is the same man who would scold me for petting dogs and such in Mexico and Jamaica. An had a good time with the cat, and for the cat's part it was amazingly patient even when she would heft it around on her chest. After purchasing a couple of paintings and a bottle of water it was time to climb back in our pace car and make for the finish line.

As we came into Halong City, which is where we would disembark, the humidity was stifling. Our driver pulled into a small stall which looked like an area for herding cattle and let us out. They must have unions in Vietnam because as 3 young gentlemen helped us on to a smaller boat for shuttle 5 much older men sat on the stalled area and "supervised" from afar. Our guide went along with us and after all the passengers were loaded we shuttled out to the junk.

I must pause and explain how the shuttle docks; the driver will take off at full speed and drive pretty much straight at the intended target and 2 seconds before the impact the driver hits full reverse not unlike a cab ride in New York or Chicago. Because of this the shuttle is well equipped with 4-5 old tires at the front of the boat in order to cover any areas of impact. Once we bounce off whatever we are docking the engine is then slammed to half and left there so that the boat will stay in place (who needs ropes? ).

Anyhow we boarded our junk and prepared to head out. After putting our bags in our room we were sat down and served a five course lunch. The food was really good and An was able to get in and really make a good mess trying everything. Right after lunch we got underway and the scenery was amazing, it was not the tooth like sea spires I had expected but a collection of so many small islands that from a distance it looked like a mountain range. Our guide told us the bay contained 11,900 individual islands, most of which had resisted erosion and remained in similar condition to what they have been for centuries past. The boat pulled into a open collection of islands along with several other junk boats and our guide informed us that we were to go ashore and look at one of the bigger caves that had been discovered in one of the islands. The cave was amazing and in fact not one but 3 separate caves growing in size as we left one and went to the next. One of the most interesting things in the caves was the lighting; it was floor level movie theater style which meant the wires had to be run through the thick walls and not overhead style like most caves in the U.S. On our way out I once again retained the title of the "world's Most Terrible Dad" as An and I noisily passed the ice cream vendor on the way out of the caves. But from the sounds behind us as we descended I am sure I have a lot of competition for my title. When we got back to the boat we steamed off for about a half an hour and they we anchored and were told that we would be here for a while and swimming time was available. Because I am part Welch and as such am subject to the fair-skinned Welch gene I told Wendi I would not be going swimming in the salt water. That lasted for 2 minutes until An saw the other people on the boat frolicking in the water and made us very aware she would not miss out. I wouldn't call what we did so much swimming as much as maybe gymnastics on a life vest. Since the ship did not have a child size vest I had to don a vest and let the monkey known as An try to flip and rotate me like a gyroscope.

After swimming it was close to dinner time and time for An to test her limits with daddy. After finding out that daddy does have limits she started to get sad and began to have a meltdown. Thankfully our guide was nearby and translated what she was saying: "I want to go home, I want to go back". Unfortunately we couldn't tell her we were going back the next day in case she would take it as we would take her back to her foster family. After about a half hour of crying we sat down and had dinner. As she ate some the tears dried up and her mood became better but she was still very tired. After dinner though she got a second wind and we stayed up till 9pm finishing dinner, watching the sun go down, and watching some others on the boat try to catch Pi(small squid). When we went to bed she went right to sleep. Dad and mom were not as lucky as the bed was a flat rock slab handed down from Fred and Wilma Flintstone. Because of her meltdown and sadness we left it up to An as to where she slept and she chose to put me in between her and Wendi sleeping on the outside left. For a good portion of the night she kept herself turned toward me. Unfortunately that did not last and just as I had finally nodded off I awoke to Wendi yelling at me "she's fallen! Go get her!” An had rolled off the bed and still half asleep had not yet registered what had happened. Quickly we got her back in the center of the bed and I slept on her outside.

The morning came with An in a much better mood, and at 7am Vietnam time we had a 5 course breakfast. About an hour after breakfast we anchored off of an island and boarded the shuttle boat for a trip into a small lagoon area inside of the island. We had to go in at low tide because as the guide explained the water would raise so much during high tide that only swimming underwater could you access the same area. It was a very pretty place and could easily hide a small flotilla of speed boats immediately making me think of all the pirates and buccaneers who must have hidden out in several of the nearly 12,000 islands in the bay. After we got back there was more swimming time but we passed this time. However some of the other passengers took time jumping off of the roof and into the water(2 story or so fall). This high diving impressed An to no end and was a complete puzzle to her. We pulled anchor and headed back to Halong Harbor where once again we had another 5 course meal before departing to shore to meet up with Mario and the pace car.

On the way back, in between the white-knuckles our driver gave her, Mom decided she and dad would head for a one day trip to Sapa, a place in the north of Vietnam. So arrangements were made and when we got back to Hanoi we had dinner, came back to the hotel and mom and dad left for their trip. They left Sunday evening and should be back Tuesday morning(Vietnam days +13hours from Idaho). The train ride is 10 hours each way so if nothing else mom's Sapa post should be interesting.

As for us we weathered the night very well having a bed that is space age compared to the slab of slate we had on the boat. After having a good breakfast(a buffet is just as good as 5 courses) we were off to go and get An's health check and passport. The visit to the SOS medical clinic (yes the same one from the earlier post and same doctor luckily enough) took about 90 minutes but 70 of those minutes were waiting on people and paperwork. Tomorrow we go for her Visa which should take about 2 hours; 15 min up front of signing and then an hour and 45 minutes that we either wait in the office or go and walk around and return later. We will be choosing the later. God I love paperwork....

Friday, June 5, 2009

More Parenting Lessons

No, we haven't hurt her again but I did learn a valuable lesson today. Always have the camera ready! We visited the Temple of Literature this afternoon and when we got inside the altar area An placed her hands together, raised them in the air, knelt down on her knees and bowed to the floor two times. Then she instructed each of us to do the same. I couldn't get the camera out fast enough to capture her doing it but I may have gotten a shot of her showing Grandma Judy how.

We are going to head out to Halong Bay tomorrow morning so there won't be another post until we get back Sunday evening. I'm going to turn the computer over to Judy to finish posting about the day while I get us packed.

We went to a restraunt tonight where they train disadvantaged young people to be waiters and speak English. An was the center of attention. They all spoke to her in Vietnamese, stroked her hair, and were very loving to her. We think it is a combination of her charm and their realization of how lucky she is to be going to the US. It was very moving and made us realize how lucky we all are to have been born in the land of plenty.

Eat your heart out Jim, I had a casserole of green bananas and tofu with tarragon rice. It was yummy, but the best thing was the beer was really cold and not served with ice.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pictures from Yesterday

Since we could never deny An's foster are pictures from yesterday especially for Honour:

Checking out the wading pool

Who needs the wading pool - I'm a big girl!

Safe in daddy's arms

Playing with grandpa

By the way, her arm is just fine. She started using it again after swimming yesterday afternoon. She continues to run around with excitement and happiness. We're going to head down to the childrens play area to see if we can exhaust her before naptime.

A Good Day

We took it easy today...ate breakfast, played in the room and then went swimming after lunch. No fear whatsoever in the pool. Put her face in the water after the first few minutes and just laughed.

This evening we walked to a brewpub for a beer and dinner. Yes, they have a few breweries in Vietnam and we aim to try them out! After a nice walk back to the hotel we are all ready to pass out which means no pictures tonight. Sorry!

An and I did have a few small breakthroughs today. When we returned to the hotel we were all in the lobby. Brian went off to do one thing and I started walking towards the mini-mart as she was having fun with Grandpa. She jumped off his lap and started running down the hall towards me. When she caught up she wouldn't let me pick her up or hold her hand, but this is the first time she's paid any attention as to whether I was near or far. It's a good sign...

Can't remember if I posted this, but even though we'll have her passport and Visa next week, we aren't able to get an earlier flight at this point. We'll keep checking, but are just as happy to stay here.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

No Video...Photos Instead

Photobucket hates me. Or perhaps it just hates video. I think its because we record at a high resolution and don't have any editing software to downsize the files. Anyway, it did let me load some great photo's tonight:

Making it official - signing the book at the G&R

Celebrating with her cake (yes...ours was sent with us from the orphanage!)

Hanging out with dad

Catching a nap after the excitement of takeoff

Enjoying a lollipop from the doctor while on a cyclo ride around Hoan Kiem Lake

Parenting 101

We scored our first "F" this morning.

In under 36 hours we've already had to take this poor child to the doctor for x-rays. She's fine (at least the doctor is pretty sure she's fine)...but it certainly has been an interesting past 24 hours.

An’s first plane ride went very well – she was so excited about it. They had obviously talked to her about planes as she started squealing with delight when we got to the gate and she saw one. “May bay! May bay” is what she was yelling out (means airplane). I have great video of her during the take-off which I will try to load later. We arrived in Hanoi last night just about 7pm. Since we'd left for the airport at 1:00 we were all hungry and tired. We went to the restaurant in our hotel and had a quick supper. After one taste of my French fries, An all of a sudden decided that it was okay to be close to me so that she could get some more. She was putting them in her rice porridge so that she could use her chopsticks to get them out. It was a hysterical “east meets west” moment. Following that, we came back to the room and crashed.

This morning, we met the social worker at 8:45am to go to the police station to file for An’s passport. It took no time at all. Because the other family that is here is living in Korea, Holt had to make a special arrangement with the government to expedite their passport which was offered to us as well. Apparently this is rarely done and we are happy to take advantage of it. It means we may be able to come home next Wednesday if the flights work. As we were walking back to the street, An had Brian by one hand and the social worker by the other (I had no French fries therefore no holding my hand). She was jumping up and down to be swung and all of a sudden the social worker heard a “pop” and An started crying. She cried during the ride back to the hotel and when we got in the lobby, Brian and the social worker were asking her where it hurt and how much it hurt and we all finally decided that she should go to the doctor (the social worker asked her if she needed to see the doctor and with big tears in her eyes and sniffles she shook her head yes).

So…back in the van for a few blocks to the International SOS clinic. What an efficient place. As soon as the paperwork was filled out, we were whisked in to see the doctor. I think he was French, Brian thinks South African. Anyway, he couldn’t feel anything but said an x-ray was the only way to tell so off she and Brian go to the x-ray room. There was no fracture thankfully – the doctor thought she just partially dislocated her elbow. To put it back in place requires a little twisting and bending of the arm that was already hurting her. He said that once he did it, she should start using that hand again immediately. But she didn’t. So he did it again. And she didn’t use it again. Would the third time be a charm? Nope.
He called another doctor down who agreed that it was probably back in place and she was just babying it because she remembered that it hurt. We were sent home to give her Tylenol and to watch it. If she doesn’t start using it by tomorrow, we get to go back.

A few minutes after getting back to the room, she was laughing and eating her lunch like a goof. Not using the hand, but not acting as if in pain. She is now taking a nap and we’re hopeful that it’ll all be forgotten when she wakes up.
Since we were only going to the police station this morning, we didn’t take the camera. It’s too bad because a picture of the x-rays of her arm would have been one for the memory book!


Monday, June 1, 2009

What a Beautiful Day!

It's official, we are now a family of three! An has held up remarkably well today. We arrived at the orphanage before her and when she got there, once again she jumped into Brian's arms. We had a few minutes to visit before the other family arrived. They were meeting their son for the first time. It got rather crowded and confused, with all the families/foster families but we were told what would happen when we arrived at the DOJ and then the other family went to tour the rest of the orphanage while we said good-bye to An's foster mom.

An was so excited I don't think she really knew what was happening and she didn't want to hug or kiss her foster mom or sister. Brian was too intriguing. After they left, Brian walked around the corner to pay the driver and she panicked. She went after him and then also saw her foster mom near their car and she just lost it. One of the orphanage workers gathered her up and tried to calm her down. She ended up getting into the van with us to ride to the DOJ and by the time we got there she had An willing to be in Brian's arms again.

The "ceremony" was short and sweet. We sat in a area with many other people, were called into a room to sign 4 pieces of paper and a book (right below you Mary Li)and then handed over our gifts and walked out. We then walked about a half block down the street to take a picture of the hospital where An was born. We walked back to the DOJ and found that the person that needed to sign our documents was not there and the Holt staff would get him to sign later or tomorrow morning and bring our documents to the hotel in Saigon before we depart for Hanoi. Did I really expect to walk out of there with everything???

On the ride back to the hotel, An fell asleep on Brian's lap:

She woke up when we arrived and has been on the go since then. We walked across the street to the Pho 24 and found that she can outeat the two of us. She's just learning to use chopsticks so its funny to watch her. She's great at noodles but other items are difficult for her. She showed us she could use a fork, spoon and chopsticks during lunch. I'm not sure if she's been taught to eat everything that's put in front of her or if she was really that hungry. At dinner tonight, she jumped right into Brian's noodle dish which had hot red peppers. She'd eat a bite, ask for water, eat another. At one point, it was obvious she was in discomfort so we distracted her and slid the plate away.

She has just played with us all afternoon - coloring, kicking a balloon and, within about 5 minutes of arriving at the hotel she found the computer:

Every time someone has set down at the computer she's on their lap to play with it. Right now Brian is distracting her with the balloon so I'm finally getting a chance to do this.

Well, it off to bath and bedtime. I should also probably start packing. It'll be good to get to Hanoi and settle in for a little while.

love, Wendi