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The journey to Nanjing

28 hours
3 children
5 carry ons
6 checked items
0 sanity

We are exhausted, this is an understatement. I am feeling on the edge of collapse at all times. However, there is an energy, perhaps a survival mechanism that kicks in, keeps us going. Everything is alive, new, exciting, even if perhaps a bit scary.

I will start with the low point, since it’s actually not all that bad, considering other things that could have gone wrong. I completely broke down into a blubbering mess, in public, on our last leg of this journey on the plane from Beijing to Nanjing. We were going on hour 25, with about 45 minutes total sleep during that entire time since between 3 kids, none of them slept simultaneously, and in order to have them survive the trip without incident, hating us, having permanent mental and emotional damage, and irritating every other passenger on the plane, we tried to cater to their every whim. That may have been a bad strategy, but it’s just the one we took.

As we were boarding from Beijing to Nanjing, we were let on first because of all the kids and carry-ons. But shortly thereafter, a hoard of people basically stampeded me to get to their seats on the plane because that’s how people are on planes, and especially in China there is not a whole lot of cultural nicety around waiting one’s turn in lines (you often have to elbow other people away from your spot in check out lines, for example). So this man was trying to barrel past me, with a baby on my back while I was trying to maneuver my carry on from one row to another – I even put my hands up in a “stop” sign in hopes of getting him to allow me a moment to get situated. He was impervious to my pleading and kept trying to push past me. I finally scooted out of his way, but in so doing, knocked my head on the overhead bin, knocked my brand new sunglasses off my head, and when I bent over (baby on back, remember?) I stepped on and cracked them and nearly whacked Howard on the head.

Horrified eyes greeted me, “Who is this crazy American baby lady blocking the way, flailing around…” So I burst into tears. More horrified eyes.

The first few days

You can imagine the first few days have been a hectic haze of jetlag and confusion. It’s amazing how difficult it can be when you don’t have just a few of the things you are used to having, like kitchen towels, salt and pepper, a vegetable peeler. You can improvise a lot of stuff for sure, but after a while it all adds up to just this very disorienting weirdness.

Stocking our kitchen has been one of the biggest challenges and concerns for me. I am used to cooking almost every meal at home, so eating out with 3 kids and shopping in a foreign country where quality can be questionable or good quality can be exorbitantly priced has been rough. Our driver, Mr. Wang, has been very helpful in this area, but also very picky about what he “lets” us buy. He basically rejects up to 60% of what we want to buy, either by pointing out the item is way past expiration (flour I wanted to buy expired 1 year ago!), or that it’s potentially contaminated or chock-full of chemicals, or perhaps he just doesn’t like it. He shakes his head and waves his hands and repeats emphatically, “Bu. Bu.” (Which means no.) This resulted in a lot of items on our list being rejected, like Milan’s beloved apples. The kid LIVES on apples and at store after store, they were Bu’d by Mr. Wang.

Mr. Wang’s son is apparently some kind of nutrition expert who makes intricately designed foods (he showed me photos) of highest nutritional quality. I don’t understand entirely what field of culinary arts this is as Mr. Wang speaks no English and tells us everything through a translation app, which might be a bit inaccurate, but this is my best understanding of what his son does. But the bottom line is, Mr. Wang seems to have much higher standards and information about food than we might, which is frustrating, but also kind of great. 

However, a friend and Nanjing expat veteran, offered to take me shopping to her favorite markets where she says she has never had a bad food experience - so I was more than happy to take her up on the offer.

Which brings me to…

This ridiculously giant rhinocerous beetle just hanging out on a coconut at the counter of the best (24 hour!?) fruit shop in Nanjing
So if this occurred in Detroit, I’d have been shrieking and mortified, but in China I’m like, “That’s amazing,” and taking photographs. Uncertain if it was a pet, or a stowaway on a Thai coconut (and yes, coconuts are large, so the beetle was also very large), Mr. Beetle was the subject of much entertainment for myself and my friend until finally an employee bagged it and threw it in garbage…we had our answer. He was an intruder, indeed.
But beetles aside, I was so grateful for this shopping trip – it was making me feel human again. The fruit and vegetable markets were great, and the import market was also wonderful.

Tostitos! I have never been so happy to see a bag of Tostitos. I know that sounds silly since I haven’t even been away from the US for even a week, but psychologically, Tostitos were dead to me, so it really was a special thing. The excitement continued…409! Fruit wash! Ajax! Brooklyn IPA! Duncan Hines!

Our kids
They are amazing. They are special. They are handling this transition like champions. They are, at times, losing it. We may be overcompensating with cookies. However, I hope that in a week or two once eating and sleeping routines have been re-established and we are able to explore fun things to do, Nanjing will start to feel like home for them. All in all they have just taken to this adventure with minimal complaining. They miss their grandparents, but often say stuff about how they will show them things when they visit, etc. My hope is that by Mike and I staying positive it has helped them embrace things too.

About staying positive

It’s hard to do all the time, but I will toot my own horn here: we have been taking each challenge in stride, praying when things feel tough, and take heart knowing that there are lots of people supporting us here and at home. Having kids actually makes a lot of this easier, in a very weird way. We don’t have the luxury of losing it, or being really negative, because for the sake of the kids we need to lead by example and show them this change can be fun and rewarding, even if difficult. Even if we didn’t outright say negative things, they’d be able to feel our vibe, so we are doing our best to make this a fun adventure, and guess what – that just turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Some more pictures for your enjoyment!

Rhinoceros beetle atop a coconut

Fresh egg and grain stall 

Fresh noodle stall - the smell was amazing

Man standing outside museum with birds on chains - his pets?

Howard made a friend his own age - 10 months

There is no Apple store in Nanjing...this picture was taken in Nanjing, you do the math


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