The Adventures Begin

by Gary Hawkins, October 6, 2018 

After what seems like an age of planning and preparation, and with more of the same on the horizon, our family travels have begun. Well, it has for the girls.  Yafei, Xaria, and Yafei's parents left for China on October 2nd, for an eight-week visit to Nanjing and the surrounding area.  They will stay at Yafei's parent's apartment, and plans include visiting family and friends, local sightseeing, and hopefully an opportunity for Xaria to attend a Chinese school or daycare.  Xaria was excited about the trip but had not grasped its length or notably that it officially marked the beginning of our family travels.  

Xaria prepares for her first trip to China

Xaria Gets Her Travel Case Together

Xaria with her packed case eagerly awaiting the flight to China

Xaria Ready to Go on Her Adventure - Well, Almost

Our Last Family Meal Together for a While

Our Last Family Meal Together for a While

I had chosen to stay behind in San Diego - a decision I would probably regret.  My second book, A Life Redesigned, was not writing itself, several items needed attention including a kitchen fire at one of our rental properties, and most importantly I would soon be traveling back to England to see Dad.  I had planned to catch up on a lot of Southern California hiking while the girls were away, but these plans were already in jeopardy as I'd fallen foul of another chronic cough. 

I thought the whole family would be excited, in boisterous spirits, and looking forward to the adventures ahead.  Nothing could have been further from the truth in that last week before they traveled. Yafei's last days working at Qualcomm turned out to be a frenzy of activity.  Yafei realized that many of her files (mostly photos and family videos) she had downloaded several weeks earlier from her corporate computer could not be found.  It took two days of gently prodding her laptop in the right direction to ensure they got off the second time.  There was so much stuff, I ended up taking out a paid subscription to Google Drive.  Then her new laptop refused to load several applications and we had to abandon the thoughts of using this and configure an iPad as a backup device for her smartphone.  This IT stuff was turning out to be time-consuming and very frustrating.  Of course, loads of people at work wanted to say goodbye to her, and colleagues kindly arranged a happy hour.  Trip packing and dealing with final leaving arrangements were all behind schedule, and her work office needed boxing up.  On her last day, I had planned a surprise meal and champagne to toast the end of an era.  By the time she got home, Xaria had gone to bed, and I was celebrating by myself! Tension was thick in the air!

Xaria was not on best behavior either; in fact, I would go so far as saying she was being a right little monster. As I've mentioned before, Xaria loves attention and Mom and Dad had been more than a little distracted in recent days.  Xaria was now making us pay by acting out - the drama was beginning to elevate to an Oscar-worthy performance.  Briefly, we both questioned the sensibility of this whole adventure.  I suspect Xaria was also picking up on the growing tension in the house and the last-minute nerves us adults were having about beginning this new phase in our lives. 

Our final hours together were a little more normal, and the drive up to Los Angeles International Airport was pain-free.  I gave Xaria a plush stuffed tiger (my Chinese birth year) as we unloaded the luggage from the car and told her that when she felt she was missing me, she should cuddle the tiger and I would sense her love back home.  I also said the tiger would protect her but would need her love and affection. She latched onto it with a big smile and did not put it down again before the family disappeared into the immigration and security check.  This splendid cuddly-toy idea had come from my friend Chris, the week before. 

Xaria with her Tiger Cuddly Toy - LAX Airport Before Flying to Nanjing

Xaria with her Tiger Cuddly Toy

Yafei had a notarized travel authorization, and copies of Xaria's birth certificate and our marriage documents in case immigration officials questioned a blonde-haired blue-eyed three-year-old traveling without her Dad and having a different surname to my wife.  The documents were never needed, but it was reassuring to have them available.

Xaria and Grampy Enjoying a Snack in the China Eastern Lounge

Xaria and Grampy Enjoying a Snack in the China Eastern Lounge

The Family Settled in Business Class on the China Eastern Flight from LAX to Nanjing

The Family Settled in for the China Eastern Flight to Nanjing

Our home was eerily quiet on my return to San Diego.  Even Miko, our cat, seemed on to be edge and kept his distance all evening.  This was going to be by far the longest I'd spent away from either Yafei or Xaria. I felt uneasy, particularly considering the week's events!  I watched an old movie to pass the time and went to bed as their flight thundered relentlessly towards Yafei’s homeland.

The flight out on China Eastern was extremely comfortable.  Xaria was delighted to find four playmates in the cabin ranging in age from newborn to three.  To Xaria's delight, she was soon being called "big sister" by her smaller counterparts and their parents - she fell enthusiastically into the role.  The grown-ups took full advantage of the champagne, and the time the swarm of little-ones hushed long enough for all to catch a nap during the direct thirteen-hour flight.

Xaria Sleeping on the China Eastern Flight to Nanjing from LAX

The pickup Yafei had arranged at Nanjing Airport went to plan, but Yafei's parent's apartment was showing the fact that no one had been there for the last four years! A thick layer of dust covered everything, and within minutes Xaria's feet were black!

Now Those Are Dirty Feet - Xaria in Yafei's Parents Apartment in Nanjing

Now Those Are Dirty Feet - Xaria in Yafei's Parents Apartment in Nanjing

After turning on the electricity and gas, they found that the stove, kettle, and fridge were broken. Fortunately, a neighbor was able to help them with the former, and soon water for green tea was beginning to boil on the stove. Within a day, cleaners were arranged, the family had found a couple of convenient places to eat, cell phones had local SIM cards, and an Internet connection was scheduled for installation.  The girls and her parents were settling in, and Miko and I were finding our rhythm in our quiet solitude.  Xaria is super excited about her new surroundings but seems to think she's coming home at the weekend!

 Xaria Choosing Chicken Feet For Lunch

Xaria Wants Chicken Feet!

Lunch in a Nanjing Restaurant

Lunch in a Nanjing Restaurant - the Adventure Begins!

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