Monday, September 10, 2012


We got to Shanghai late at night.  We still had to check Chloe in for a week’s quarantine. So that took a bit long. We were just happy to see that she was fine. Scared, terrified… but fine. We also had to change money. We had Dirhams. No bank at the airport changed Dirhams. Oh boy. No problem, tomorrow. At this point, I’m outside the gate with Mila. We met other teachers that were arriving with us.  There was a family who was on the same flight with us and also lived in Al Ain, but we never met. Jen, Dave and cute, sweet Lester.  Jen is a teacher working in the same school now. Mila’s first friend in China is Lester. This is the beginning of their love/not so much relationship.  So, we are fitting two families of 3 and all of our lives’ belongings plus one more teacher and the driver into a tiny van.  Oh boy, strollers on top of us, luggage, cranky children, long drive, very very late at night, cranky parents, bumpy roads, no carseats, no seatbelts… Bleh! No fun…
We finally arrived in Suzhou at around 2 a.m. and checked into the Noah hotel in SND (Suzhou New District). Showers all around and bed to end the first day of the rest of our lives. 
Breakfast was good. A bit different, but we’re used to different. Mila and I were adventurous in our selections. We tried many things. Fried rice, noodles, etc… but I also had my usual coffee and eggs, and BACON!  Luis tried to change money E! VE! RY! WHERE! to no avail. No one changes Dirhams here. We’re stuck. Good thing that the school gave all new teachers a small advance of their salary so that held us through.
We rested the first day and met the new teachers.  The first week was basically trying to catch up on rest, checking out the neighborhood and city. We took a tour of the school, looked for housing, met with the principal and his family, went out to eat with the whole group. Beer every time we get together; fun, and a nice change – basically a way to relax and know that this is something that although serious and professional, can also be enjoyable and laid back. We were showed how to use the metro and the bus. We went almost everywhere as a group in one of the school buses.  It was nice to go the SIP (Suzhou Industrial Park – part of town where most expats live) and check out markets and restaurants which carry familiar items and foods.  The principal hosted a bar-b-q at his compound’s pool and we got to meet the rest of the staff who are already working in the school.  It was nice to see familiar faces and people we already knew from Al Ain – Geoff and Coree and their boys.
We finally found our place and started to get settled after a week and a half in the hotel. We chose a place that is central and we got familiar with the area while staying at the hotel. It’s within walking-distance. We have 2 small markets, a Starbucks, 2 gyms, Subway (food), Franco Papa (bakery/coffee shop), subway station, Gymboree, pet shop & grooming, hair salon where Luis gets his hair cut, banks … all within a five minute WALK from our apt.  This city is very walker/bike friendly. Lots and lots of e-bikes in a designated lane.
The place is pretty cool and modern. I really like it. We are on the top floor, so we have a big outside terrace that we want to convert into a garden. But for now we have an inflatable pool there for Mila. She loves it.  I’ve had to  clean the place A LOT and still haven’t quite finished. But, I’m getting there. I cleaned thoroughly everything that we use and lightly the things/ areas that we don’t yet. But little by little I’m getting it all cleaned and disinfected. Rentals come furnished here so that takes the burden off of having to buy everything. We only had to buy our kitchenware and personal things like towels and sheets, etc… But in true Lu and Luis style, we had to ditch some things that are not our taste like some curtains and a bed or two. Nothing lkea doesn’t solve.
A trip, okay two, to Wuxi (another city) where lKEA is located and we got some knick-knacks for the house.  We were so happy to be in lKEA! Oh my word.  Well, the first trip…… we wanted to be adventurous and maybe save some cash by not hiring a car. We decided we wanted to go by train. We had to take a taxi to the train station and then a taxi from the train station there to lKEA. The train station is pretty much the same as any other in the world. But the train… oh my… it was like an airplane.  The seats, the attendants, everything. Very very cool. 
Everywhere we go people look at us. They are mostly interested though in Mila. Blondish, curly hair; big blue eyes. They stop, stare, smile, laugh, and some try to talk to us in Mandarin and even touch Mila’s hair.  Many, many, many pictures.  We just smile and tell Mila to say Ni hao.  We expected this already. We knew it would happen. I think after countless blogs I’ve read of American families coming to China to adopt and their experiences, I knew what to expect. Also, I truly believe that living in the UAE was very much a cultural stepping stone for us. For Mila also. She’s used to it. And she’s very friendly. Too friendly. We’ve had to coach her on “stranger danger” a lot here. Since we’re always surrounded by friends and family everywhere we go, she thinks people here are part of her entourage also. Because you know, the world revolves around this tiny person. She’s getting it though.
After a week in quarantine, Luis went back to Shanghai to pick Chloe up. She was so happy. I was happy too. I had been worried about her. I told Luis almost every day to call and check on her.  But Mila was truly the happiest one of us. It was as if she knew that with Chloe here, we were home.  Her demeanor completely changed from being “away on a trip” to being “home” once she was reunited with her beloved friend and companion.
We’ve been in China for a little over a month now. We have many adventures to document. So keep checking back regularly.  

Summer Recap cont'd.

Uuuugh… arriving ‘home’ was a bit of a disaster.  The plane rides were pretty uneventful.  But technically, we had no place to stay.  Ha! We had made arrangements, but there was a misunderstanding. Long story short, we ended up staying in our old place. That in itself was WEIRD. It’s our home, but it’s not. It had our stuff mixed with someone else’s stuff and it was just, again, weird. So in Miami, we stayed in our old place which is not our place anymore. In Al Ain, we stayed in our old place which is not our place anymore. So, at this point we’re homeless. Really.
We made the best of it. We treated the place as we were guests while making ourselves as comfortable as possible in order to rest and regroup and get ready for the huge change that was about to take place. The upside to the whole thing is that we got to stay with our Chloe and to spend lots of time with our beloved Ana and Marina.
We arrived before Ramadan was over and it was extremely hot; sooo, not much going out during the day.  Not that the jet lag allowed us to anyway.  We tied some loose ends, got together with our friends Joey and Stella and did some much needed last minute shopping.  Our 5 boxes of whatever was leftover of our belongings got shipped. Chloe’s paperwork was also done. Sigh… and finally we were ready.
Now, because this time we were traveling with Chloe, we had to make alternative arrangements for the ride from Al Ain to Dubai (airport).  Thankfully, our amazing friends Stella and Joey were right there – bright and early to save us give us a ride.
I have to say, leaving the UAE was hard. I was really starting to feel like that’s where we wanted to be for a few more years. Great connections. I was even getting really used to the heat. As much as one could get used to 47 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit).  I will forever hold that place and its people in my heart. I will always miss our dear friends greatly. Mila will always remember it as her first home.  I know that when I look back, I will immediately feel melancholic and a longing to return.
Our years in the UAE were years of learning, of growth. They were years of being very close to each other and learning to be a family on our own.   It was wonderful to host family and friends who came to visit. We had visits from my mom and aunt; Josie & Dave; our friends Javier & Susana and family; and Jesse and Betty. And thankfully, the yearly visits from Mami and Papi which made living away from family bearable year after year. We are so thankful to have had such loving guests to make us feel cared for and loved. Thank you everyone.
Farewell Al Ain; Abu Dhabi; Dubai…