The Night That the Lights Went Out in Cleveland…
Some may remember the night that the lights went out in Cleveland—that and the entire Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada too. If not, I’ll remind you. It was late afternoon on Thursday, August 14th, 2003. Well, for us in China it was August 15th, 2003, a Friday morning—thirteen hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. It was before breakfast and our flight to the island where the U.S. Consulate was.
The whole trip was a bit of a bumpy ride from beginning to end. Scrutinized here and there with a smattering of kindness and curiosity from others. It began with rifles held as we landed in communist China—proper. Coming down off the metal steps of the prop plane. I whispered, “Don’t pull out your cameras.” Disregarding my whisper—Don pulled out his camera— he was reprimanded in Chinese. I was surprised they didn’t confiscate his camera as I heard rifles shift.
My mind set off alarm bells. Yet I remained mildly relaxed seeing young people in uniform—manning their form of customs. I initially said the—ehhh hmmm—the wrong words when asked of my presence. Weird looks made me smile—implying I was kidding. I backtracked my words and stated the more welcomed phrase. I was nodded in—as I did everything not to laugh.
We encountered illness galore—on all sides, SARS was still hanging in the air. All of us—even the ones who didn’t want to admit it—were sick with something. However, our baby just got healthy. Had we been delayed a week or so; we would have never met her. She would have been in a ‘dying room’. That’s what they began to call it back in 1992—thusly she would be discarded as not a good ‘sale’. Yes, you heard me.
On our fifth and final day in the Hunan Province—we heard a knock on our hotel room door. It was one of the other couple’s husbands we were travelling with.
Norman answers our hotel room door. “Hey. No lights back home.”
“Oh. Really?” He queried.
“Yeah we’re watching the news now in Stacy and Jason’s room.”
“Okay. We’ll be over.” Norman closes our hotel room door.
“Huh?” I was busy changing our new baby’s diaper.
Norm replied, “I better call my mom. Jody you heard that?”
“I’m going to Stacy and Jason’s room. You got her?”
“Yeah. I’ll be over. Two doors down right?”
Soon all nine of us—including our three ten-month-old babies gathered ‘round in a hotel room gawking at a television set. Chinese reporters gave the news. Husband, Norman called his mom.
Yes indeed, lights were out in New Jersey—pretty much everywhere—Mom was safe. With Mom’s sister and brother-in-law living next door, all was good.
As the news was a little unnerving to some. I realized—we’d just finished one battle and were onto the next. A big chunk of our mission wouldn’t be over till we were in the air flying out of Hong Kong—hopefully in five days. Then we’d feel like kissing the airplane’s floor—as it traversed the almost friendly skies towards the U.S.
Before that, the next battle was getting from the hotel to the airport—then onto a type of prop plane to the Canton province. Still security was tight and scrutinous. The waiting seemed forever. We heard flights being cancelled. A Chinese man began screaming in Chinese at attendants. Everything around him remained calm. They let him carry on, as he ranted. No one arrested him. He made his point clear and got on our flight.
As this was going on—I translated the screaming from Chinese into English whispering to Lauren’s husband Don. He began to realize I was kidding around. Then I said, “Watch he will get on our flight. No one is going to mess with him.” Don remarked, “You serious?” I replied, “Yep. Watch this.” Indeed, it occurred. Lesson #26,602.3 Don’t piss off a Chinese businessman in Hunan. He will win.
The flight was a tad delayed. They gave us free food. One thing we learned—some the hard way. Don’t eat it. Scrutinize per your own digestive tunnels and crevasses.
Norman held his little package. He looked at the box and looked at me, “Safe?”
“I’m not so sure about this. This rice thingy could be safe. Eat small.” I paused. “I think today is a good day to starve.” I remarked.
Myself having gone through thirty hours of no eating during this trip so far—I figured what’s another hour of starvation for me. Our baby had her food and drink prepped by me. I found potable water in the airport for her.
Soon we were being called to board. Passports pre-checked as we sat; then checked once more before boarding the plane. We all made it on board—including the demanding businessman from his earlier rant that almost seemed that violence would be eminent—if he didn’t get his way.
As we got settled, Norman hands me his passport. As he does I open it, it’s mine. We had inadvertently switched passports and still were able to board without anyone realizing that the passports didn’t match the person they had checked in upon boarding. “Shhh.” Putting my finger to my lips. “No remarks.” Norman nodded in agreement nearing laughter.
Soon we are now flying to Guangzhou. About a two-hour flight, as my ears pained me, and Norman shook his head with how ill he felt. Norman and I waited till we were settled into the White Swan Hotel near the U.S. Consulate to consider getting medical attention. The other couples wanted to sightsee. We were too exhausted. Too, our agent had told us not to go off the island. We stayed put with our new baby.
That first night in Guangzhou, Norman and I sought medical attention separately in the basement of the hotel. The doctor was a very cool—he an elder Chinese man. His English was impeccable. His knowledge of Western and Eastern medicine was more than proficient.
He had Norman inhale this steroid—in twenty minutes all that ailed him, was cured. The doctor gave me the exact antibiotic my body could handle. He had it in stock. The doctor discussed Eastern medicine at length. He took his time separately with both of us. Between the two visits, all medical expenses were no more than eighty dollars. Basically, within twenty-four hours our bodies were healthy.
Meanwhile, out of apprehension the other two couples wouldn’t go to this doctor. They didn’t trust it. Even as we tried to explain how well-grounded the doctor was in allopathic medicine.
Next was getting the three babies through exit medicals. The first doctor was an elder orthopedic pediatric doctor. He played with our baby. She giggled. He smiled. You could he enjoyed his work. Then came the x-rays of the chest. Well, we almost didn’t make it. We were screamed at in Chinese by this head doctor. She was about forty-eight years old. Accusing us of trying to smuggle a sick baby out of China.
Our baby now was healthy. We explained, we had no clue—she’d had bronchitis. I did however suspect, ehh hmm—pneumonia. I just didn’t say it. We’d tried to keep under wraps with our agent back home and our fake ‘tour-guide’ in Changsha—on just how sick our baby was upon arrival. We withheld information so only the orphanage in Changsha and their medical staff there would be involved. We knew not to talk about it.
If we had sought medical care for her outside of the orphanage, she would have been taken from us—discarded as not a good product of China.
In turn, during the exit medicals, we apologized multiple times to the head doctor. Chinese personnel came to our aid—Translating to her our stupidity and our apologies. I egged Norman on to be stupid. I implied to him, ‘Tell them we are stupid. And everything will go as planned’. He did. It did.
Well not exactly. Later that second day in Guangzhou, we find out my mother-in-law ends up in the hospital. Yes, the lights were back on before her mishap. After that, there was a bit more trauma applied to us because we didn’t appease our second fake ‘tour guide’.
We learned, he would get kickbacks from businesses off the island if he could entertain us off the island. We stuck to our guns and told him—we were recovering from illness, and we were exhausted. Which was mostly true.
He screwed around with our consulate paperwork at the eleventh hour. I finally got pissed. I let him know, that I knew what he was up to. Norman let him know to not piss me off. We were determined to get out of China with this baby if it was the last thing we did.
Soon things were panned out—the three of us were healthy and on board a U.S. plane flying out of Hong Kong to be back home landing in about sixteen hours. Meanwhile on that flight, the other couples were getting sicker. Much sicker. After we landed, there was wait to be approved by U.S. Customs to enter the United States.
After all nine of us were approved to enter the United States, we breathed. We parted ways—going to our respective transportation areas. As Norman, our new baby and I stood waiting for the bus to take us with our luggage to our car. Norman said, “I know the ground here in Newark is probably considered dirty.” He looked down at the ground scarred with gum residue, some marks of litter. Looked up and remarked, “The air is so much cleaner here. I feel like kissing the ground.” We chuckled, as our baby rested against me in a bjorn.---Jody-Lynn Reicher