Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Willow's First Week in China

,Willow's new toys; her fun rain forest themed bouncy seat that the 3rd graders gave to her last school year. It plays twelve difference songs and makes lots of sounds/lights. Pretty fancy!

Her little play mat; we just set it up the other day and she loves it. Willow goes crazy, kicking and pumping her arms as fast as she can. She is intrigued by those hanging toys. The creepiest one is an owl, but she seems to like it.

There's the creepy owl on the right. It lights up and plays music, but it looks more like a flying monkey from the Wizard of Oz to me.

Staring at her owl...a little obsessed with the owl.

Checking out the musical monkey.

Emma is her #1 playmate.

Willow even likes Emma's hair.

Emma and Willow at Starbucks in Shenyang for the first time. We met a couple at Starbucks who looked Chinese but were from the USA. They recently had a baby as well and were sharing similar experiences such as traveling with newborns.

After having nice American diapers, it's been a little bit of a transition adjusting to what China has. Willow has a blowout experience almost every time she fills her diaper now (too much information?) which is really annoying.


Come Fly With Me

On Friday, August 19--Willow was finally able to travel to China. She had her passport, her visa, and all her important documents, including an authenticated birth certificate. On Monday, August 22--Willow was at O'Hare getting ready to board her first International flight. With 7 checked bags and 7 carry-on pieces, we had our hands full! This was also the first time for Willow's Aunt and Grandma to travel over the ocean.

Usually the check in process is not so tortuous. It seemed like everything was taking ten times longer than it needed to. When we checked our bags, the lady was doing everything by hand and she had to keep going into the back office for some reason. Plus there were lots of little mistakes that caused her to redo things. When we finally got all our tickets, we were missing my sisters and had to wait again. We were standing there for at least 30 minutes, just waiting at the counter to be checked in! I thought that we would have to pay for an extra bag. But turns out that Willow actually gets to check one piece of luggage herself. For the extra suit case (70 pounds), we only had to pay $50 in overweight fees (thanks Dad!) which isn't that bad considering it costs more than that to ship twenty pounds of stuff through the post office. It worked out well being able to use my mom's and sister's extra bags for all of Willow's stuff. I remember the first time Adam and I came to Shenyang we paid almost $1,000 in overweight and extra baggage fees. Not very pleasant! Now that I'm remembering it, even with all those bags two years ago, we still checked in faster than we did this year.

Back to the story. We were finally able to get in line with security. When it was our turn to get our passports checked, Willow started screaming. Then the security guards who check passports kept changing. Instead of finishing up and looking at my passport, they kept trading it off. This happened three or four times and was super annoying. We finally had to say goodbye to my dad at this point, and then started putting our belongings on trays to be scanned. I had a screaming baby so I didn't take out my computer. That was a problem. My mom's carry on had some things in it that the security guards decided to confiscate. That was annoying. They kept taking the stuff out, setting the bag aside, then remembering they had to re-scan it. It took forever to get our bags back and the whole time Willow was screaming. We finally made it to the terminal and I was able to feed Willow a little and change her diaper before we boarded the plane. We arrived at the airport more than two hours before our flight was supposed to leave, but we barely had any buffer time. O'Hare was not being very cooperative.

Harabagee really sad to see his family going away....

During the long flight over to Korea, Willow was a star! She cried for a little while before we took off, but soon after she was sleeping soundly. She woke up two or three times to eat and then would go back to sleep very quickly. I think she deals with stress through sleeping. The difficult part was finding a good time to change her diaper. We experienced a lot of turbulence and so she had to sit in dirty diapers for long periods of time. When it was finally all right to get out of our seats, the lines for the restrooms were so long that sometimes we had to go sit back down before we could change her because the turbulence started up again. For some reason, this flight didn't feed us as much as usual. Maybe because it left at midnight so the schedule was different. Emma liked her airplane food and watched a few movies. Surprisingly, I didn't watch any movies! Usually I watch shows the whole time, but it was just too difficult to do headphones and controls while I was holding Willow...we didn't have a bassinet because of how full the plane was. Although now that I think about it, we should have traded with the people across the aisle who did have a bassinet, because they didn't use it the entire flight. We arrived in Korea on time and found a nice nursing room to camp out in for a few hours. No one else was in the room, so we had it to ourselves! Benches to take naps on, changing tables, and even a sink and drinking water dispenser---it was a nice little place for us and I didn't have to feel so guilty if Willow cried. I was worried she would disturb the sleeping travelers in the lounges.

Here is Willow in her groovy Korean nursing room.

Our plane that took us to Shenyang. It was a new plane so it was extremely nice inside. Unlike our first flight, which is usually the nicer of the two, this plane wasn't stuffy and did not feel crowded. The air wasn't dry or filled with static (like the first flight), which was an added benefit. The breakfast that they served was yummy. Each chair had it's own tv set, which is a new feature (usually the plane shares a tv). Everything was new, clean, and very nice. All the electronics were an upgrade from our previous flight so it was almost surprising. Usually I dread this flight after getting off the big plane, but this time I was surprised. Willow also had a bassinet for this flight. And she loved it!

After sleeping for so long (at least 16 hours), Willow loved to be able to play in her bassinet. She kicked and flailed and smiled for the entire flight. She only cried when her diaper was dirty and had to get changed. What a sweet baby girl!

We were sitting next to another baby girl from China. She was four months and probably weighed 28 pounds. She was the most enormous baby I've ever seen and her head was huge!

Willow had a hard time filling out her arrival card....

After all of our travels, Emma is still 100% photogenic and perfect. How does she do that?

All of our luggage. We were tired, hot, and run down from the traveling. But all in all it was a good trip--it took less than 24 hours to get from my parents house to my apartment! That is the fastest ever!

I couldn't have done it without my mom and sister. Just even little things like opening up my food containers for me or reaching the diaper bag under the seat in front of me, it all would have been a lot more difficult and stressful if I was by myself.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Assumptions + Mistakes = Waste

In my last update, I shared how Willow had finally received her passport on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning we woke up and headed for Chicago yet again. Both my brother and my mom had to work, so Emma went along with me to help with Willow. We were trying to get to the Chinese Consulate in Chicago before 10 am so that we could apply for visas and receive them in the same day. We did arrive in timely manner, but there was such a crowd of others waiting that by the time our number was called it was 11:30 and we would not receive same day service. Picking up the visas the next day wasn't not a huge problem. What was frustrating was that I had to have copies of Emma's and Willow's birth certificates. Because of all the passport mayhem that happened earlier in the week, I had a copy of Willow's birth certificate in my diaper bag still. But I did not have Emma's. I had read what I needed to bring on their website three times and had even googled what I needed to bring for minors applying for visas--and this never once showed up. Another day wasted. My first mistake was forgetting Emma's birth certificate. My second mistake was not going to the Secretary of State's office. I knew that I should have gone, but at the moment it didn't seem necessary--sleep deprivation messes with one's decision making skills.

(Willow, in line at the consulate)

Thursday, Brad helped me to go to the Chinese consulate. He dropped me off around 9:30 am and then he went to his city apartment to clean up a little before his semester begins. It was really difficult to get out the door in the morning. My days had been so busy, exhausting, and stressful that I was completely wiped out--and it doesn't help to have a baby who doesn't sleep through the night and thinks its fun to play from 3:00-6:00 in the morning the day that you have to wake up at 7 am to go to the consulate again.

Equipped with Emma's birth certificate (and every other important document my mom could think of --just in case), I pulled a number at the consulate. There were almost thirty people in front of me and I just hoped that I would be able to reach the counter before 11 o'clock. Everything went well once I got up to the counter and I was given another pink slip to pick up Emma's visa at 2pm that day.

While we were waiting, I decided to walk down to the Secretary of State's office to get Willow's birth certificate authenticated. I spent the next hour walking down State street, taking in the city sights and smells while Willow slept, oblivious to the world. It was a nice day, not too hot with an occasional breeze. I thought that it would be no problem to get her birth certificate authenticated. I had filled out the little form and I would pay the $2 fee.

(I wanted to have some pictorial proof that Willow was in Chicago during her first year)

(Thanks Joanna and Jay for lending us your awesome stroller and carseat! It has been a money saver and helped out a lot!)

Anyway. It was very nostalgic walking around down town and I enjoyed the experience. But once I got to the the Secretary of State's Index Department things took a turn for the worse. The employees refused to authenticate Willow's passport. There were markings on her certificate and they said that that made the document invalid and illegal to authenticate. I was very frustrated at this point. Having dealt five days with stupid bureaucracies already, I was not in the mood for them to tell me what they can and can't do. The office was small, hot and stuffy. The employees were gross and insolent. I had had it. I started crying for the second time that week in front of everyone. "I need this to be able to keep my daughter in China." To which the reply was, "We don't care. We can't sign this because it's against Illinois law".

I was so frustrated! "It isn't for Illinois use--it's for China and this is what they want".

I'm so tired of China and the USA not seeing eye-to-eye on how things should be done. It makes for a grand mess when both require extremely specific results and wont accept the other's--even though they say that they will.

Finally, I left that office, feeling very upset. I found a corner behind the public restrooms to nurse Willow because she was just as upset. I sat there fuming, frustrated, and dreading walking back to the consulate. Here was another empty handed moment. I realized that I would have to pay for a new birth certificate that didn't have any marks on it and then I would have to return to the Index Department on Friday and hope that they would authenticate it.

I walked back to the Chinese Consulate, picked up my mom's, Emma's, and Willow's visas while my baby screamed the whole time. As soon as I had their passports in hand, I left the Consulate and walked down the hallway to where the building is under renovations so that I could feed my screaming baby. She was upset, I was frustrated--and there we were sitting on a dusty construction floor.

On the way back home, Brad and I picked up two new copies of Willow's birth certificate.

On Friday my mom had had a hair appointment, doctor appointment, and we were planning on having a few friends come over to meet Willow. We had to cancel everything. My mom and I left early in the morning and headed downtown for the 6th time. She dropped me off at the Index Department and went to find parking. I went inside, applied for the authentication, paid the fee, and waited five minutes for the service. I also had our marriage license authenticated because I started to have a feeling that this would need to be done--and knowing my luck it would be a huge mess that would be tricky to solve once in China. Since the process took no time at all, I wish that I had had a cell phone. Then I would have been able to call my mom before she found a parking space and paid for it--but I had no cell phone. So I waited for my mom to walk to the office building on 17 N. Sate Street. Then we walked back to where she had parked, got lost in the parking garage, and finally drove out and headed towards the consulate.

I'm still not sure if we were supposed to get these document authenticated at the Chinese Consulate or not. I'm not sure if the Secretary of State's seal was enough or not. I don't remember doing this at the consulate two years ago, but this is what the website told us to do. I am tired of having so many things go wrong and if this was over kill, then I was ok with that. Hopefully this was the right thing to do and will be accepted in Shenyang and not cause more problems. And if someone tells me that I didn't need to do this...well, they just better keep their thoughts to themselves.

We arrived at the Consulate a little after 9 am. I grabbed another number. There were about 20 people ahead of me. I thought that it would be no problem to get to the counter before 11. It was Friday and so same day service was necessary....our plane leaves on Monday!

At 10:50 there were still three people that needed to go before me. I started to think that we wouldn't be able to get the rush service and we started thinking of a plan B. I probably wouldn't be able to pick the papers up on Monday because I had a doctors appointment. We needed a copy of someone's driver's license who could pick up documents, so I ran over to the xerox machine with my mom's license.

At 11:58 my number was called. The man took all the papers:

Willow's birth certificate plus a copy
The application form
The Secretary of State's letter/seal plus a copy
Copy of her passport
Copy of my passport
Marriage License plus a copy
Secretary of Stat'es letter/seal plus a copy

He placed all the papers in the correct order. Then he started filling out the pink pick-up slip. "You will pick-up on Monday".


"I am leaving Monday. It's still before 11am.." I said, looking over his head at the slow clock on the back wall. He looked as well and then scribbled a new date on the pink slip. "Ok. Pick-up at 2pm".

Yes! Finally. No arguments or tears or worrying about coming to the city again. I had the final pick up slip and the end was in sight. I didn't have to come back again.

We went out to lunch at Chili's. Then I fed Willow. We walked to Moody and visited their bookstore. It is weird being on campus and not knowing a single soul. We were back at the Consulate at 1:30 to stand in line. I paid the rush service fee ($100), and was back in the car with my mom and Willow by 2:30.

Willow has probably had the hardest time of it all. The government has caused me to, in a sense, neglect my baby. I wasn't able to feed her or change her when she needed it. I wasn't able to play with her or let her take naps when she wanted it. But she was a trooper, and tried her best to be a good girl.

Here she is playing on the floor after 8 hours of sitting in a car seat. She was so happy to be free!

Willow is now 6 weeks old. She has spent the last 10 days sitting in the car for 4-7 hours every day. She has been to more federal offices than she wishes to know about. She has had to stand in many lines with me and get carted around all over the place. Poor baby.

So happy! I think she knows that she gets to see her dad again very soon. :)

Uncle Brad is very good with babies and has been a really good help to me this week. He held Willow a lot while we were standing in offices. He drove us around many hours. He went out to eat with me and dealt with my mistakes and stupid assumptions that caused more trips. He brought me to the city three of the times. He also helped by returning something Adam had bought and promptly broke to Best Buy--a task that I hadn't asked him to do, but it was very helpful of him. Willow likes Brad.

Now it's Saturday, and I'm having my first day in over a week where I can sleep longer than 4 or 5 hours at night and not have to rush out the door with adrenaline pumping and a knot in my stomach. After 11 visits to several different offices (village of Libertyville, Social Security, Passport Agency, Chinese Consulate and the Index Dept.), 6 trips to Chicago, a few tanks of gas wasted, one long walk, two emotional breakdowns in public, one frustrated shopping spree, $1,000 in rush fees, expedited services, gas, food, I now have everything I need to take my baby to China...and hopefully keep her there with us.

What remains frustrating is that this could all have been accomplished in two days--with all the money I spent on rush services, it should have only taken two days. But with my mistakes, my poor decisions because of lack of sleep, and with the government being a pain to work with, it took much longer. Now on the other side of things, I wish that I hadn't had to go through all that, but I'm glad that it is over.

This process has taught me that I am actually looking forward to sitting through a 14 hour flight with a fussy baby and that I will not miss America and its bureaucratic nonsense. We are leaving on Monday. I will miss my family and friends that I am leaving. This summer has been great for many reasons and I wish that I had been able to visit with everyone.

I'm ready to be back in Shenyang.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Turns out...three time's the charm...

I'm glad that it wasn't...3 strikes and your out...

Willow can hold her own passport, so I guess she's ready to travel internationally! Next stop: Chinese consulate for visas and the secretary of state's office for birth certificate authentication (hopefully this will be able to be done in Chicago). I feel so happy and bubbly right now--what a relief! A tremendous burden just slid off my shoulders--I didn't even realize that it was there. I'm excited to be able to see Adam next week!

This whole process would have been a lot more difficult without the help and upward thoughts of many people. Thanks to the people in China who have been supportive and have helped Adam with his end of the work. Thanks to my Mom and Brad who took turns driving me to the city and being an extra pair of arms to take care of Willow while going through all the bureaucratic hoops.

Today, Brad and I witness lots more shenanigans as people tried to apply or pick-up passports. Here were our general observations about the employees at the passport agency after having spent 10+ hours watching their behavior:

1. Employees are extremely rude, argumentative, and unhelpful. If a mistake is made during the process it is always the fault of the applicant and not the agency employee. Whether it's losing people's paperwork, spelling names incorrectly, or missing a vital piece of information--it's always the applicant's fault.

2. If these passport agents were to act this way in any other job, these employees would definitely be fired for their poor customer service, impatience, abruptness, and accusatory attitudes. They accuse people of fraud, dishonesty, and criminal acts with no proof at all (e.g. "that's not your signature--you're lying"; "you aren't from California because you have a foreign accent--I will not accept your application because I think you sound like you're from another country"; etc.).

3. They think that they offering the country a service by being rude to its citizens.

4. They find it necessary to be crass and brutal to applicants to somehow prove that they are good agents/competent at their jobs.

5. The enterprise looks organized, but is in extreme disarray.

6. They will make a scene with applicants just to get the situation to the point where they can call the security guards to forcibly remove the applicants from the building.


Grrr....I get frustrated just thinking about it!
After sitting and waiting for Willow's passport for several hours, I finally went to the window to ask if it was ready. I had previously been told to get out of line and sit down because they would call me if it was ready. Sure enough, it had been siting there since 1pm.


Oh well. The point is that God is good and provides faithfully. I don't know why the process was delayed, but there has to be a reason. It was super easy to apply this morning. The agent did not question Adam's consent (like the past two agents) and was helpful in letting us pick up the passport on the same day. I'm glad this step of the process is over and that we still have time to spare.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Can't Buy No Happiness

Two copies of her birth certificate...$15
Fee to Authenticate birth certificates at the Secretary of State's office...$2
Passport fee...$105
Rush Passport...$60
Gas for 4 trips to Chicago...$120
Chinese Notary Fee...$50
Parking downtown...$100
Her tourist visa for China...$170

The joy of getting to bring Willow to China and to be reunited with Adam again....PRICELESS.


Willow's passport was denied again...Brad is going to help me try once more tomorrow. Hopefully we will walk away with Willow's passport and be able to apply for her visa. The problem with Adam's second consent form was that the Chinese notary did not stamp the actual consent form. Instead they sent several pages and translations stating that Adam gave permission. The Chinese notary swore that the United States would accept this type of notarization, saying that there was a special agreement between the two countries. Apparently, this is not the case! The Chinese notary was unable to stamp the actual consent form because it is illegal for some reason in China. The US Passport agency refused to accept the Chinese notary that Adam faxed to me even though they said that they would over the phone last Thursday. They said that there was no way of knowing that the notary was with Adam when Adam signed the consent and that they needed the original forms (because somehow the original documents DO prove this--even though they are exactly the same). Over-nighting these forms will be pricy, so Adam is keeping his appointment at the Consulate. So frustrating! It's like a vicious circle when two countries can't see eye to eye on official matters. What a waste of money to get the ineffective Chinese notary...a waste of time too (Adam's and my own). So now, Adam is at his appointment at the US consulate getting a third consent form notarized. I'm not sure how much this one will cost--wouldn't it be nice if it was free?

Please join me in lifting up tomorrow's efforts. Third time is the charm...right?

Monday, August 15, 2011

jinju harmonee

Willow got to meet her Korean great-grandmother....Harmonee is the reason Willow has any Asian genes at all. These pictures are unedited, so some might be a bit dark.

So sweet! She loved Willow! We're still waiting for her to give Willow a Korean name.

Brad noticed that Hadabogee's blanket was taken from a Korean Air plane.

Brad, Tommy, Katrina, and Emma went on a long bike ride and got stuck in a rain storm--they came back soaked through and cold to the bone.

Bright eyed baby girl!

Uncle Tom is good with babies.

Aunt Sandi drove down for another visit! Thanks for sacrificing so much of your time this summer for visits!

Harmonee and Willow taking a nap together! They both need a lot of rest.

Adam getting to see Willow on Skype.

Making kimbop together.

Lots and lots of my grandparents hundreds upon hundreds of figurines.

We had great weather this weekend--it was comfortable (in the 70's or 80's) temperatures finally. After having such an intolerably hot and humid summer, it felt wonderful.

Willow likes to swing on the porch.

Willow's mini photo shoot with the lawn ornaments.

Scared of the leopard.

Those blue balls hanging from that vine-thing are spray painted baseballs. Oh, Hadabogee.

Willow did a great job in the car ride there and back again. She had a little bit of screaming time, but slept for most of the time. I hope she is this easy while traveling by plane!