Monday, March 21, 2011

Just as crazy in Houston

So we left right after church on Sunday for our adventure in Houston. Charlie was able to get two nights at the Hilton Galleria for only $65 per night, compliments of Priceline! We're looking at this trip like a little celebration. When we're done with Houston, we're done with the paperwork process....or at least we think we are.

Sunday was Charles' first fever free day, but unfortunately, I started feeling sick. A little achey, couldn't breathe real well, and wasn't sleeping very good. Other than that, Sunday was uneventful. However, we were feeling very anxious about what tomorrow could bring.

After waking up at 3 a.m. on Monday morning (told you I couldn't sleep), I had to lay there and wait for everyone else to wake up. Luckily we had an early wake up call so we could be one of the first ones to arrive at the Chinese Consulate. Much to our surprise, there was a line around the corner when we drove up 15 minutes before it opened!

After 9:00 we soon made it inside the building where we were greeted with a burly guard and a metal detector. He insisted that everyone turn their cell phones off. Normally, we might not have taken him so seriously. But we read on the internet that multiple people have had their phones confiscated after turning them on after getting inside the Chinese Consulate. So we settled in for a long wait in line without the ever-present crutch of our cell phones.

Luckily we did bring some coloring books and crayons for the boys. They camped out in a small waiting area to pass the time.

Let's set the stage a little. Imagine the Department of Motor Vehicles but much worse. There were two lines: one for dropping off (which we were in) and one for picking up. Unfortunately, it turns out that Monday is the busiest day of the week for dropping off. At the end of the lines is a row of Chinese employees behind a bullet-proof glass. Periodically, they would begin speaking in Chinese over an intercom, which the entire room could hear. About 90% of the people in line appeared to be Chinese and were in line for visa issues. The other 10% were other nationalities who were there for mostly visa issues as well. This surprised us a little because we just assumed there would be other American families carrying their packets that said "Dossier". We were the only ones and we felt like fish out of water.

I'm sorry to say the experience was equally as nerve-racking for the Chinese folks in line. It seemed everyone there had a very important situation they were dealing with. In fact, at times it was very much like the "Soup Nazi" episode on Seinfeld. One nice Chinese man goes up to the window (after waiting for 2 hours) and presents a form that he had printed the night before from the Consulate's website. The employee takes one brief look, gives the man a dismissive waive of her hand and says, "Form expired. Next!" He tries to explain that he printed the form the night before from their website and she simply says, "Expired! Next!" We saw similar scenarios play out several times while waiting in line. Everytime I would hear someone say, "Next!", I would look at Charlie and whisper, "They didn't get any soup!" Needless to say, we were nervous and didn't feel good about our chances.

Finally, at 10:30 our turn had come and we calmly walked up to the window. We shoved our large packet of papers through the tiny hole, only for her to glance briefly at them and say, "Only original, no copies!" What??? She said it again a few times and finally we realized that we were supposed to bring originals AND copies so they could keep a copy. Well that would have been nice to know. There is one pay-copier (coins only) in the place and we had a large stack and no coins. The nice employee (luckily we didn't get the Soup Nazi) told us to go make copies and come back. She said we could go to the front of the line IF we returned by 11:30.

The Consulate shuts down every day at 11:30 and does not reopen until 1:30. So that meant if we were not back by 11:30, then we would need to start all over and likely need to extend our trip for an extra day.

I decided to stay at the Consulate with the boys while Charlie took our papers to get copied. Charlie grabbed the papers and ran for the car. The moment he left the building, I needed to call him to ask him to bring back a bag of snacks we had left in the car (the boys were starting to get restless after almost two hours), but then remembered cell phones were not allowed!

The security guard had given Charlie some quick directions to a nearby office supply store, but that didn't work out well. While he was looking for the store, he decided to run into a CVS and ask for directions. As he was literally running up to the store, a very polite homeless man asks him for money to wash his windows. Charlie told the man he would be right back. After getting directions to an Office Depot, Charlie runs back past the homeless man and cleans out about $2 in quarters from the ashtray (every coin we had). Charlie quickly gave it to the man, leapt in the car and took off - no clean windows!

After driving about 5 miles to Office Depot, Charlie was able to make all the copies. We were told not to take any staples out of papers or someone might suspect the documents had been tampered with. Therefore, Charlie tried to be careful not to alter the documents in any way. After racing back to the Consulate, Charlie rushes back into the room at 11:10.

Within minutes we are back at the window and presented our documents - again. On the first document (there were 14 stacks in all) she reviewed, the date was cut off on the copy Charlie had just run across town to make. She slid the document back under the glass and said, "Go make copy," and pointed to the coin-operated copy machine. Unfortunately, we didn't have any change because Charlie gave it all away to a homeless man! I pulled out a dollar bill and turned around and asked the entire room loudly if anyone had change for a dollar. Everyone just stared at me! Finally, a nearby Chinese lady asked another American man if he had change. He very reluctantly reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of quarters (why he didn't offer when I was loudly pleading with everyone in the room, I don't know). Finally, I was able to make the copy and get back to Charlie.

We then waited on pins and needles while she slowly scanned every detail of the remaining 13 stacks of papers. For some reason she focused on our Oklahoma marriage license and didn't like certain things about it (I suppose she won't be first or last to not like something about Oklahoma). But thanks to the incessant silent prayerful pleading to God from both me and Charlie, we ultimately made it through without any more hiccups.

I must ask forgiveness for my negativity through the ordeal. While we stood at the window, I kept whispering to Charlie, "We're not going to get our soup!" Charlie just kept whispering, "Sshhh. Be quiet!" But I knew he was thinking the same thoughts.

From here, there isn't much to tell. We did get our soup after all. We had to go back on Tuesday morning and stand in line for another hour, pick the documents up and pay our money.

This whole experience was a big wakeup call for us. It is definitely more real now than it previously was. I can only imagine how much more intense being in a country full of Chinese will be compared to being in a room full of Chinese. We have so much to learn about China and the Chinese people.

The good news is that we are now the proud owners of 14 stacks of papers with Chinese Consulate seals on them. This completes our long road of paperwork.

We mailed the dossier package to our agency in Georgia and they subsequently sent it to China on Monday, March 14. We were told it would arrive in China by Thursday, March 17. With a little luck, our dossier will be logged in by the end of Friday of this past week and we can officially begin the waiting stage.

If you read this post, please be in prayer for our placement. Please pray that the folks at Small World will have the wisdom to match us with God's choice for our daughter. Please also pray that we will feel the Holy Spirit's prompting in making our decision.

And now we wait........