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I have a beautiful granddaughter who was born with Down syndrome. She has enough challenges to face in her life and I want to make sure that finding appropriately fitting clothes will not be one of them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our next stop … China!

The next part of my story, I will take directly from the journal I wrote while in China. The experience was so memorable; I wanted to journalize every detail.  It may be a little long and too wordy, but it is important to me to remember all the details.  I'll start from the beginning:

Monday, Tuesday, August 23, 24, 2010

I woke up at 2:30 am but sleep had been very sporadic. I had been waiting for this day for months and the anticipation was beyond description. My husband slept soundly as I got ready for my journey. Everything had been carefully packed and completely organized. I was totally prepared but had no idea what to expect. I kissed him goodbye and I was out the door at 4:00 am headed for China!

I was meeting Jillian at the Cleveland airport at 5:00 am for a 6:40 takeoff to Toronto. Our first plane was a small one, not even a jet.  It only took one hour to get there and then we had a two hour layover.  Our flight to Hong Kong was leaving from Toronto at 10:00 am.

Flying to Hong Kong was going to take a long time…15 hours! I wasn’t afraid or worried. We were actually flying first class on an enormous jet. We had our own individual pods that were very comfortable with every convenience. The seat was completely adjustable in all positions, even a bed. We had movies galore to watch and all kinds of different programs to keep us busy. 

We tried to sleep, but it was not possible. Not sure why, but I was wide awake. I may have dozed for 10 or 15 minutes once during the entire flight. The flight was uneventful but very, very long. 

Our landing was perfect in Hong Kong. Not a glitch. We got off the plane with no idea what was in store for us. The airport was very large and very busy. The weather was rainy and humid. I think the temperature was fairly cool because of the rain; it may have been in the high 70’s. My contact in China, Yi Yuan, had sent me all the information to get from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, China. He had everything prepared for us and even wrote it in Chinese in case we couldn’t find someone who spoke English. I tried right away to call him and let him know we had arrived safely in Hong Kong but I had no service on my cell phone and was unable to call as I had promised I would. This made a little angry because I had my phone set up to handle international calls before I left.

We followed the crowd through the airport, not exactly sure where we were going. First we made our way through customs. It went very smoothly. Then we found our way to baggage claim and were thankful to find both bags coming around the conveyor. Now where were we to go?

We had to get to a train station in Hong Kong that was about 30 minutes from the airport. Our next challenge was to find a taxi to get us there. Then Jillian remembered we needed to exchange our American dollars so we looked for somewhere to find Hong Kong money. We found an ATM machine and thought we got $100.00 but in reality, we got 100 Hong Kong dollars which was not worth very much. The taxi driver was very nice and took our American money. The actual cost was only 40 dollars and a tip!

It was pouring down rain when we arrived at the train station. Once at the station, there was a place to exchange money. Next I purchased two tickets to Guangzhou, China. We had about an hour to wait. Since my phone didn’t work I needed to use a pay phone. Calling Guangzhou from Hong Kong was not so easy. Nothing we tried worked. Luckily, there was a very nice lady at the phone booth who spoke English. She was able to make a successful call to Yuan for us and told him we were okay and would arrive at Guangzhou at 6:30 pm. Luckily for us she was taking the same train. We stuck to her like glue and she led us in the right direction.

The train took 2 hours and I felt very sad during this time. The train was full of very typical people who, for reasons of their own, were coming or going. Some had luggage and others had shopping bags. It was a quiet ride and the sound of the “clickity clack” should have put us to sleep. But I couldn’t stop looking out the window. Poverty was everywhere. People lived in huge, tall buildings in very small apartments. Laundry hung outside on their little balconies in every unit. You could tell air pollution was not controlled, the buildings were very dirty. It made me feel very sorry for these people. As we traveled through the countryside, I saw shacks that people lived in that were right next to their rice patties and gardens. It was raining very hard, but people still kept working. It looked like a picture from a magazine. They wore their large straw hats and rode bicycles everywhere.

We finally arrived at the train station in Guangzhou, China. I knew Yuan would be there waiting for us. I was so excited to finally meet him after all these months of communicating. But first we had to go through customs again in China…the lines were very long. It took about 30 or 40 minutes but finally it was over! As we walked toward the exit, there he was…just as I had pictured him.
First, I should tell you how I met this young man and how he has become such an important part of Downs Designs. Yuan is 27 years old and the general manager for the jeans manufacturer that is making our jeans. After attempting to find an American company failed due to their high costs, I was forced to seek a factory outside of the United States. I had help with this by a fellow who was making golf shirts overseas. He explained the ways of finding an overseas manufacturer and guided me through the process.

I joined a website that was set up for finding international businesses. All I needed to do was post what I wanted to manufacturer. My request read something like this: “I am looking for a manufacturer to make jeans for people with Down syndrome. They require a special size.” Immediately, people from all over the world began to contact me. I was overwhelmed with companies seeking my business. How could I possibly know who these people were? Communication was by instant messaging and I got many pictures of “skinny jeans”. I knew they had no idea what I was talking about.

Then I was contacted by Andy Yen who introduced himself to me. This is the name that Yuan goes by for business purposes. I could tell he spoke very good English by his writing and I felt something through our communication that was different from the others. It was more of an instinct than anything else. I explained that I would need to make a size that was not standard and would require special sizing. I told him that these jeans would be for people with Down syndrome. I couldn’t believe what happened next…he sent me a picture of a fellow named “Tom Weggie”. In the picture, Tom Weggie was directing a symphony…and he had Down syndrome! I knew then that Yuan understood. I knew I had found the factory that was going to make our jeans. Without his help all these months, none of this would have been possible. Yuan has become an important part of Downs Designs and also my dearest friend. I’m not exactly sure what I would have done without him.

Now that I have explained how I came to know our contact in China, I can get back to our journey.

We left the train station by taxi and Yuan told us the hotel was not far away, but it took us over 30 minutes. I cannot put into words what that experience was like…OMG! It was dark by this time, now after 7:00 pm. Road construction was everywhere, people were everywhere and traffic was insane. Everyone in China drives like a crazy person. People were on bicycles, people were walking everywhere in the streets and sidewalks, cars swerved in and out, and scooters zipped between the cars with no regard for anyone else on the road. I don’t know how anyone could survive on these roads, but this chaos all seemed normal to them. When I tell you their horns worked…I mean that was their main means of communicating.

Yuan described to us how long it takes to get a driver’s license in China. He explained that it was very difficult and expensive, and that it required a long schooling period. I wondered why if everyone had to take a lot of driving classes, why didn’t any of them know how to drive? I think they must have skipped the class on tail-gating and the one where the pedestrian has the right of way was not even on the curriculum! Another interesting factor was that they could only drive on certain days of the week. I thought about what the traffic would have been like if everyone had been able to drive on the same day…I can only imagine.

We finally arrived at our hotel; it was right in the middle of this huge, enormous city. Tall skyscrapers were everywhere. I had made reservations at a Hyatt Hotel and couldn’t wait to finally get to our room. The two-day journey had taken its toll. We figured we hadn’t slept in almost 35 hours but I was surprisingly not tired at all. Adrenaline was still flowing through my veins.

Our hotel was like any other Hyatt in United States. The people were extremely friendly and courteous and our room was beautiful. We dropped our luggage off in the room, brushed our teeth, changed our clothes and headed for the restaurant. By this time it was about 8:30 pm and we were hungry. After dinner, we said goodbye to Yuan. He lived about an hour outside Guangzhou and still had to find transportation home, which apparently would not be a problem.

Jillian and I headed back to our room, praying that we could finally sleep. We sat up for a while trying to absorb what had just happened over the last 2 days and couldn’t believe the journey we had just experienced. But we were here safe and sound and ready for a good night’s sleep. After a while of restlessness, I was finally able to sleep. But at 4:30 am….I’m up and wide awake!!!! I couldn’t believe it, how could that be.

This explains our first two days which were all travel time. 

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