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Philippine Travel Log: Minor Disaster Averted October 8, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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After dinner with our friends and a little shopping – particularly for our new-found fruity friend, the pummelo – we returned to the hotel.  It was getting close to bed time for John, but we still had time to play a little anyway and to open a present he’d received from the Ramos’.

First, we opened his present.  Joel and Cherry had given him a Philippine coconut which had been hollowed out (I still don’t know how) and a slit added to turn it into a bank.  Inside, they had already placed a single Philippine Peso from the year of John’s birth.  This is evidently a tradition in the Philippines.

So, eventually, all John’s left over Philippine coins went in his little coconut bank.  Here’s a picture of his playing with it after he opened it.

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John and his Coconut Bank

Next order of business was John’s shower.  After mom and John both got ready for bed, she helped him floss his teeth.  I included this picture, because he is just SO cute.  This might have been the first time he flossed his teeth.  He did really well.

John and Mom Flossing Their Teeth

John and Mom Flossing Their Teeth

After getting ready for bed, it was play time.  In order to fully appreciate this story, you have to understand John’s affinity for bellies.  We had quickly learned that John had a thing for them.  He loves to be tossed over daddy’s shoulder like a “sack of potatoes”, but when he is, he’s always reaching for the belly.  Or, whey he runs up to either of us, he will try to stick his hand under one of our shirts and go for the belly button.  Go figure!

Well, during play time, John got it in his head that he would stuff coins from his coin purse – one of his favorite toys at the moment – inot mommy’s belly button.  So, mom laid on the bed, and John built a tower of nickels and dimes on her bare belly.  Jeff was rolling his eyes – and videotaping – the entire time.  Here’s the (hysterical) video I shot from our little digital camera:  Get in Mommy’s Belly (Facebook account required to view).

Great Picture of John Playing

Great Picture of John Playing

So, we’re cruisin’ along having all kinds of fun with bellies and coins and video cameras, and all of a sudden (not on video), John bounces right off the bed and hits his head on the night stand on the way down to the floor.

Now, you have to understand that at this point, we had been living in fear for days that John would totally lose it in the hotel the way he had two or three times at the orphanage.  In those cases, it seemed like no matter what we did, he just screamed and wailed and cried inconsolably.  More than one night, after John had gone to sleep, Faith and I had discussed our fear that if he let loose on one of those tantrums in the hotel, that we wouldn’t know what to do.  We had nightmare visions of John’s screaming and wailing in the hotel room and half the hotel calling security.  Next thing, we’re in some kind of Philippine gulag accused of abusing our little boy with no hope of ever seeing air conditioning again.  I guess it didn’t help to have read/heard, in preparation for adoption, all the stories about adopted children accusing their parents of abusing them or screaming “Don’t touch me there” in Wal-Mart or other such horror stories.

I guess, given that we had to read up on stories like this, that it’s not surprising we were paranoid.  Of course, just becaues you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not all out to get you.  In this case, just because we were paranoid, didn’t mean John wasn’t going to lose it in the hotel.  So here we were, with one day left to go, and John falls off the bed.

He wasn’t hurt.  He just bumped his head a little.  You know how children can get startled, and that scares them as much as they are hurt.  This one of those times.  However, both out of concern for John and out of fear he would start crying, I scooped him up to try to console him.  I got him halfway into my arms and he started flailing, trying to get away from me.  I lost my grip, and he flops out, bounces off the bed, and falls to the floor again, this time landing on his head.  And immediately, he opens up like a combined siren and waterworks.  Tears, screaming, the dejected “I’ll crawl under the bed and you’ll never get me out” look we remembered so well from one of his tantrums in the orphanage … all the makings of our worst hotel-tantrum, paranoia-induced nightmare.

It was Papa Sadiri and Chosen Children Village that saved us.  If you remember back to our time at Shekinah, when John lost it just before church the Sunday before.  Sadiri and Auring had basically ignored his tantrum, and forcibly got his coat on and just moved him on to the next activity.  Later in the car, they had explained that this was the way to handle John … not to try to console him, but just to move on.

Early today at Chosen Children Village, when he got jealous over Faith’s holding the baby, and threw a fit, I’d taken their advice.  I scooped John up, and after a brief (futile) time trying to console him, took him outside and started playing on the playground.  He forgot all about being mad, angry, jealous, sad, scared, or whatever it was, and just played.

So, here we were in the hotel.  It’s like 10PM.  The waterworks are flowing.  John’s wailing.  The calls to the secret police had no doubt started.  Faith, didn’t hesitate.  In true super-mom form, she scooped John up in one hand, lunged for the door to the hotel room, and opened it with her other hand.  Before our neighbors could even finish dialing child services, she was out in the hallway getting him to punch floors on the elevator (which he loved to do).  I barely even got to them before John had stopped crying and totally forgotten he was supposed to be getting us arrested.

Whew!  What a relief.  When I finally caught up with super mom, I looked at her adoringly.  She looked at me like, “Please take your son and wander around in the lobby for a while so I can sleep.”  No problem.  She’d averted crisis.  The least I could do was give her some quiet time.

So, John and I wandered the lobby for a while.  He was a little on the reserved side at first, but eventually snapped back and made me climb the stairs a dozen or so times.  No wonder I came home a few pounds lighter from the Philippines … well that, plus all the dishes based on charcoaled catfish, sour broth, and bitter vegetables.

Eventually, John and I returned to the room, and mom was in bed but not asleep.  We put him down, and chatted for a few minutes about how amazing Faith’s scoop-up-and-avert-tantrum skills are, and I let her go to sleep.  I, of course, was off to the computer lab for more blog time.

Philippine Travel Log: The Blocks Return to Manila October 5, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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Daddy got played a little with John in the lobby too

Daddy and John in the lobby of the InterContinental

We’d gotten in fairly late the night before to the InterContinental Hotel in Manila – well, late by John’s standards anyway.  This is the same hotel at which we’d stayed prior to traveling north to get John.  I’m not sure what Faith was feeling, but I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be back in what I considered to be civilization.  It added to that effect, that half the staff we encountered greeted us with familiarity, some even remembering that we were “Mr. and Mrs. Block”.  More than one asked, “Is this your son?” as if they were family who had heard so much about John and had been eager to meet him.  Speaking of whom, John was clearly dazzled by his surroundings.  Everything was new, and he was (rather quietly) in awe of his new surroundings, including all the new faces.

He came to life though as Faith played with him in the lobby while I got us checked in.  I didn’t worry about getting back the two pieces of luggage we’d left there (one with the concierge, because it had breakable stuff in it, and one with the bell service) because it was getting late and we needed to get John to bed (which we figured would take a while).

Instead of the queen sized bed we had to ourselves during our previous stay, we had two double beds, so John could have his own.  This made the logistics of going to sleep a little more complicated than when we were in our cottage at Dingras, for obvious reasons.

John did very well brushing his teeth, taking his shower, etc, and then going to bed.  He wanted to play for a little while, but we just pretended we were sleeping until the room had been quiet and dark for long enough that he finally went to sleep.

Of course, I had the things I needed to go down to the business center and get computer time all mapped out, so as soon as John was confirmed asleep (heavy steady breathing patterns), I slipped out of the room and headed for the computer (another sign of the return to civilization).  I sent out an update, played on Facebook, wrote my first blog entry (I think), and stayed up way later than I probably should have after such a full day.  But every key on the keyboard, move of the mouse, swivel in the office chair, etc, reminded me of how great I have it in life and how happy I was to no longer be basking in the non-air-conditioned countryside of such a hot and humid place to live.

When I got back to the room, I was so quiet coming in that nobody stirred (I’m sure Faith was asleep seconds after I left).  And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

Philippine Travel Log: Safely Arrived in Manila September 27, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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Our flight from Hong Kong to Manila touched down about 9PM. We were praying that we would actually get our luggage and that everything we packed would still be there. We found the baggage claim easily, and our bags were some of the first to be spit out of the dark mysterious monster that is the baggage claim machine. We were overjoyed, and even more happy when we got back to the hotel and found out they had not been tampered with.

Once we had our bags, we went through customs. The adoption agency had prepped us for how to deal with customs. We had a script of answers memorized, which we’d been going over in our heads for a long time. If they say this, you should say this. If they want this, tell them that. I was actually pretty nervous as we walked up to the counter with all our bags. I was fully expecting to hear them start snapping on rubber gloves. Prayed some more.

The lady called us forward to the counter, glanced at my papers, didn’t even look at me or my bags, and waved us through. I’d say we spent a grand total of 8 seconds going through customs. Praise God!

We walked out the door, and realized we were actually outside. The blast of hot humid air was the giveaway, not so much the surroundings, because it was just like Hawaii … the buildings aren’t really actually enclosed. No doors. Windows only in some places. Etc. Welcome to Manila!

A car from our hotel – the InterContinental Manila – was to pick us up at the airport. The driver of that car was there waiting for us right there at the door. I had to visit the Philippine Airlines desk to purchase John’s return ticket to America (which I describe in more detail in my other God Provided post), so I left Faith with the luggage and our driver and the myriad security guards patrolling the area, and went to take care of it.

After over an hour at the PAL desk, a bit of anxiety, and lots of prayer, I returned to Faith. I had had no way to communicate to her that it would take so long (nor did I expect it to when I left her), so she was understandably worried. She was very relieved to see me, and even moreso to learn that John’s ticket was purchased and that all issues had been resolved, thanks be to God. Which leads me to travel tip #5…

If you’re traveling internationally, make sure that all the airlines you’re using in the process are partners. The fact that Philippine Airlines is not a partner with United (not part of the Star Alliance) caused me endless grief, mostly centered around the fact that their computer systems don’t like each other. Always check to make sure that the airlines you’re using are partners. Or, even better, book flights that have all legs with the same carrier when possible.

Everything at the airport taken care of, we climbed into the car to head to the InterCon (short name for the hotel). It was a short ride – about 25 minutes – even with lots of traffic. Our first impression of Manila was that it wasn’t too awfully different from any other big city. Lots of Jeepneys and tricycles, which seem to be the primary transportation in the Philippines in general, not just in the big city. Also noticed, of course, that there is a lot of poverty and that people were stacked on top of each other. It seemed like every ounce of space was filled with something utilitary, and that people lived VERY close together. Lastly, we both were struck by how many people were out doing things like selling things on the street, hanging out on corners, walking somewhere, working on something, etc. It seemed like people weren’t even considering the idea of sleep, and it was nearly 11PM. Granted, it was Saturday night, but we’ve had that impression the entire time we’ve been here, and again not just in Manila. It’s like the country never sleeps.

The hotel is POSH. It’s like any Marriott I’ve stayed at in the States. The A/C was welcome, the restaurant is awesome (breakfast buffet is included with our room), there’s a really nice outdoor pool, the staff is super friendly and helpful, and best of all (since our laptop is defunct), there’s a business center where we can check Facebook and write blog entries. :-)

Oh, one more thing I thought I’d mention before calling it a night. Both the television and radio switched between English and Tagalog at will. Not one commercial or show or song to the next, but within each. So, a 30 second commercial would feature some guy talking about some product. He’d use 10 sentences in the spot, and 3 of them would be English, 4 would be Tagalog, and the last 3 would be half-and-half. It puts Spanglish to shame around here, I’m telling you.

Well, that’s about it for first impressions of Manila and the hotel. We and our luggage (thanks to trusty bll hops) got to our room and plopped down on the bed at almost exactly 11PM – 26 hrs and 20 minutes after having pulled out of our driveway in Chicago. Sigh. What a trip. But we were brimming with anticipation, and quite happy to be here safely and with so few trouble spots. God’s provision was so obvious.

We went to sleep ready to tackle 12 days in the Philippines.

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