Sunday, April 18, 2010


 Family of four returns home.
I think I have left part of myself in China. I miss the country that gave me Tessa very much. Everywhere I go these days I think of what a contrast my life in the US is to the life I would lead in China. It is so so good to be home and as the days pass, and China becomes a far away memory, I will try to remember all that she taught me. I certainly will never forget this great gift, this daughter, that we have been chosen to raise and learn from.

We family of four spent about 36 hours all on April 15th traveling home from Guangzhou China. The 18 hours of plane flying was long and sweaty but 3 flights, 3 security checks, 4 airplane meals, 3 baggage checks, one confiscated diet coke, one discussion with a security guard about a rock, two immigration officials, two customs officials, one agricultural check (it turns out you can't save your food from the plane to eat later), meeting three more families with adopted Chinese children en route, and one daughter becoming a naturalized citizen upon touching down in Newark, NJ, we landed in Cincinnati and were greeted by Geoff's parents and brother who whisked us and all our bags away for meals, showers and beds. We couldn't have been happier to be home.

In the morning, I marveled at the air quality and the crisp blue skies and spring flowers. I forgot I ever had problems reading signs or communicating with clerks about anything, and I had a small quiet sigh for missing my new friends and wondered how they fared on their trip home. I thought of Catherine just waking up in Beijing, to spend a few days with her husband after being on the road with us. My mother-in-law made me a very nice breakfast bar of donuts and sausages and yoghurt and real brewed coffee.

I plan to post now and again when Tessa reaches a milestone, or I encounter China again somehow. Until then, catch me at Esmereldasbookthing. I am planning a series on Chinese-American literature dedicated to Catherine. Thanks for following us and sending your good wishes.

xo Amy

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Farewell, China!

We spent our last day in mother China taking a taxicab to a local park and hiking up Baiyun Mountain. It was a very humid day. Not very hot, but very very wet. The clouds hung low over the mountain and our view was not as spectacular as it probably could have been. Still it was a great way to spend the day. The hike up the mountain was a lush forest and the path was paved with lovely stone tiles and stair steps. It was not so much hiking as it was stair climbing.

We climbed around a beautiful Buddhist temple and a bird aviary and finally ended the trip with Gray, Tessa and I taking a cable car down the mountain. Tessa clearly has the McKim/Cornell go instinct. She loved every minute of it, even the corny bird show we were asked to watch at the aviary.

The cab ride back got us into town to do some last minute shopping and join our friends for a farewell dinner on the outdoor patio at Lucy's place. Three families had joined us later in the trip with special needs children...all of whom have interesting stories. Those three families take their oath today and leave on Saturday. Geoff, Grayson, Tessa and I leave earlier than the other four families that have been our main companions, so we said our good-byes last night. Our local guide Helen will take us to the airport and then we are on our own.

I told Catherine that I came to China expecting one place and I leave with a totally different picture. It is unfair of anyone to sum up this country with a single brush stroke. It is too old and too complex. In the grand canvas of China...we understand maybe a small fingernail worth. Above all the people have been kind and patient with we westerners. They smile when we try to say the most basic of words and give us lots of advice, even though I did not understand too much of it. (Except cold. I know you all think we dress too cold. Tess was glad to see us because we got her out of all those clothes!) I also felt that people were honest with us. I never felt like people were trying to take our money or merchants and cab drivers were trying to cheat us. Everything felt very honorable. Above all they seem happy for their children who are off to start new lives with new fortunes in America. Many of these children were destined for lives of poverty. Now a new fate awaits them.

On a walk we took in a riverfront park on Tuesday, it began to rain really hard. Geoff and I ducked under some banyan trees in a park and were staying mostly dry and enjoying the rain. Of course we were scolded and ushered into a hotel lobby to stay dry. A Chinese lady made a big production of drying off the baby. But I knew that Mother China was really blessing Yi Xiaojian aka Miss Tessa with the rain. She is losing a really fine daughter. There in the rain under the banyan trees, I told her we would be back.

I'll post again in a few days when we arrive home and get our sea legs. Thanks to you who have read this far. Geoff and I are most excited for everyone to meet Miss Tessa.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


 Catherine and Tess

Geoff and I have marveled that you cannot tell that this country is anything but capitalist.  It is capitalism on steroids actually.  Everywhere there are shops with stuff for sale.  Everyone is buying and selling at a frenetic pace.  There is so much commerce it is almost unreal.  The only part of this adventure that seems strange to us is that some very common and useful internet sites are blocked.  This is the face of China we thought we would see more of.

We have been able to communicate with ease via email and skype.  In fact, Geoff participated in a business meeting this morning at Starbucks using Skype and it worked like he was next door, but I cannot post pictures and happenings to facebook.  I must reply on friends and fellow bloggers in the states to post to my blog (anything with the word BLOG in it has been blocked.) and youtube is out of the question.

Early in the trip I asked Catherine, our guide, if she kept in touch with the families she guided .  "Yes," she said, "but it used to be easier with facebook."  I sensed a bit of sadness in her voice, but later she told us that she believes that the government blocks this website for the good of the people, and Geoff and I nod and smile.  She has too good a job to say anything else.  She is employed by a Western company and gets to travel all over China escorting Americans and helping them build their new family.  Catherine is tour guide, bureaucratic wrangler, translator, mother, baby whisperer, photographer, concierge and above all an angel.  I can't imagine having made this trip without her at our side. She has been invaluable and worth every penny we paid.  When we part tonight I will cry, as I feel she has been a friend to us in many ways.

As a gift, I gave her some American magazines (Time and People) that she can't get at home.  I also gave her the book I brought about travel in China.  (See Esmerelda's Bookthing in a few more days.) She tells me she is a reader and I promise to send her some of my favorite Chinese American fiction to read.  She seems excited about the prospect.  The Time magazine was a year in review and had a picture of the masses outside Barack Obama's inauguration.  I told her I was there, and  I promised if she ever came to the US, I would give her a tour of DC.  She would like to come someday.
All the kids in their traditional Chinese outfits

As a last act of her incredible forward thinking and spirit of the group, she arranged a group photo with all the children in their traditional chinese outfits.  She will give them to us tonight at our farewell dinner.

So this one's for you dear Catherine, my hope is that one day you can read this blog, and know that you have made a big difference in many people's lives.  People all over the US  who have traveled with you speak your name with respect.  You honor your country well.  I will miss you most when I leave your lovely country.

The Whole Gang

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Blessings and Oaths

Grayson lighting incense at Buddhist temple

The Chinese put a lot of stock in ritual and symbol and blessing and luck. Red is mounted by doors to ward off evil at the Chinese New Year, thresholds are created higher to make it difficult for evil spirits to enter, stairs in general are thought to block passage of bad spirits. Everywhere there are symbols for luck and characters for luck and blessings abound. Our guides Catherine and Helen have done a great job of explaining various Chinese religions and traditions. They have talked about traditional gifts at traditional times in our new children's lives: pearls and jade and tea sets. It has been fun to shop and think of the things I will give Tessa at certain times in her life. One piece I love is the jade pendant in the form of a round circle. It is a traditional gift to a 16 year old girl and it means the unity of the family. (Most things either mean luck or happiness or togetherness of family, actually.)

When I went to buy one for Tessa Geoff said, why? We'll be back before her 16th birthday for sure!

Guide Helen at Buddhist temple

Today our guide, Helen, took us to a buddhist temple in Guangzhou called the Temple of the 6 Banyan Trees. It was a beautiful temple, and we learned that if you put a coin in a big sort of incense burner and then touched a dragon head you could have a wish. Gray managed to get the coin in twice. Two wishes for him. Then she bought our group some incense and showed us how to light three sticks and then bow to the buddha three times. For this you would earn three wishes. What did I wish for? Well health, happiness and togetherness of family of course!

Amy and Grayson asking for wishes

After the three wishes Helen led us into the great hall where we removed our shoes and a buddhist monk came and blessed our babies and our families. The monk rang a deep gong many times while chanting in Chinese. Then he chanted and sprinkled water on us each in turn with a green leaf of some sort. We asked Helen what the blessing meant and she said, it means good luck and happy, healthy family that is always together.
Receiving blessings

I contrast these lovely blessings and offerings of health and happiness to the process at the US Consulate in Guangzhou, the place where all of us were sent to take the oath of citizenship on behalf of our children. Geoff wore a tie. I made sure little Tessa wore Red, White and Blue and we were off. We had a 40 minute bus ride through the city to the fifth floor of an office building which houses the visa program of the US Department of State in China. The consular representative who greeted us and led us in the oath told us that every morning the room is filled with over 300 Chinese being granted Visas for the US. Our group that afternoon was about 20 families from several agencies. Most of them were familiar to me as they had been cavorting in the White Swan with us all week.

We waited for a long time and then one by one they called each set of parents up for a "face check". They checked to make sure the faces on the passport matched the faces that greeted them and matched the babies photos. We signed a document and got our passport copies back. It took about 60 seconds at the window and the consular representative came out and told us about their office and what they did. 25,000 Chinese got visas last year; 3,000 of them were for adopted children. She led us in the oath is which we swore everything we said in our adoption paperwork was true. She wished a happy birthday to a couple of our April babies and wished us safe travels. She reminded us that our children would be US citizens when they touched down in the US at our port of entry. Miss Tessa will be a citizen when we land in Newark, NJ later this week.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pearl Market and Lucy's Place

Our tours today involved shopping at the famous Pearl Market. This is a five story building filled with jewelry vendors of every kind. Many of them sold pearls but you could also find crystal and tiger eye and jade. I have never seen so many shops devoted to selling jewelry. Every shop had strands upon strands of pearls. Our guide Helen explained that the pearls were farmed in freshwater and were plentiful and relatively inexpensive. She had picked a shop that was pretty good quality and had a good reputation. Otherwise, I think most of us would have been too overwhelmed. We picked our strands and watched them tie each pearl and then they cut off two and made pearl earrings. We bought a beautiful set of pink pearls to give to Tessa some day. I mentioned to our guide that the place looked relatively empty given that there must be 500 jewelry stores here. She said that the Pearl Market does wholesale to jewelers from all over.

Later in the day, we all went to Lucy's place for dinner. Lucy, like many of the other shop owners, caters to her American clientele. Her restaurant has a huge outdoor patio along the Pearl River where we could order burgers and fries and grilled cheese and pitchers of beer as well as an array of Chinese food. We all ate and drank and watched the babies play and cavort.
Lucy's place

Josie, Tessa and Clara

The sun settles at about 6:00 and the river lights up. We all parted until tomorrow. Geoff, Gray, Tessa and I strolled further along the river, enjoying the lights from a pedestrian bridge over the river. 

White Swan at night

Amy, Grayson and Tessa on the pedestrian bridge

I am starting to anticipate re-entry and wondering who will do my laundry and make my big breakfast buffet every morning. One could get used to this life.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Oh Mattel!

Grayson and Tess on China South flight

Arriving at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, China is something like arriving in Mecca at the end of a long pilgrimage.  Here in the heart of mother China is an old imperial hotel.  It is a bit rusty around the edges but it is regal.  It is from another age and time, and if you are on the Chinese adoption journey it is the glorious end to a long and winding road.  I am told, actually, that it was built in 1983 by an investment group in Hong Kong and it was the first luxury hotel in China. 

We arrived here last night tired and cranky.  The trip through the Nanchang airport was crazy: big security checks, lots of stares, smoking, no changing tables in the bathrooms.  For we five families with huge luggage and year old babies in tow, it was tiring in every way.  The flight was fast and hey, here in China they still serve full meals on hour long flights.  So we at least had full stomachs when we landed. It was a whirlwind of noodles and bottles and cheerios and gathering our myriad bags and finally making our way to Shamian Island, the heart of the adoption world for everyone who brings a child home from this place.
Shamian Island
Arriving at 9:30pm we saw boats on the water and lots of lights (think Las Vegas) reflecting the active night life.  Once in our rooms we felt it was a little small for a foursome.  There were twin beds and a crib and we got bedding from room service to make nest on the floor.  We went to bed out of sorts and irritated and woke to the White Swan and all its glory.  First it was the breakfast bar to end all breakfast bars:  a combination of east meets west:  curry and sweet rolls, eggs and bacon and lo mein, dumplings and fruit and cereal and samosas.  The place was filled and the dining room overlooked the Pearl River.  We were seated in the "Adoption" section.  Dozens of families with adoptive children or families returning to China on heritage tours.  People had just arrived from all over China:  Hunan and Mongolia, Naning and Guangdong.  You cannot turn any corner in the White Swan without meeting an adoptive family.  It seems this is a week for US Americans to be here, but I am told Spaniards, Canadians, Australians, French, Scandinavians all make this pilgrimage. 
Grayson and Tess
 Tess not liking being weighed

After pigging out and socializing for awhile we met our group for the obligatory trip to the doctor.  There is a special waiting room for adoptees and their parents and we were ushered through a series of checks including a medical exam, weight and height and a hearing test.  Tess weighs about 19 pounds and the doctor spotted some chicken pox scars on her. We strolled back, had a coffee and did some shopping.  This part of Shamian Island feels like a European City.  Many shop clerks speak fine English.  They have been catering to the adoption industry for years so stores offer all the things we families are thinking about:  free strollers, laundry service, internet access, gifts for our children and coffee.  They are all named English names: Jennies and Jordan's and Emma's places.  Shop clerks coo over your daughter and ask about your group.  I know adoptions in China are down.  There are less babies to adopt for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the economy on this tiny part of the island relies to much on this industry?  In any case, the economy here thrives on this small narrow market, and they do it well.

Construction everywhere on Shamian Island

One other interesting thing about this Island is that apparently Shamian Island is the recipient of some kind of government money for improvements and the entire area is under construction making gentle strolling very difficult.  The Chinese definitely do not have OSHA as we are free to walk and amble in and among the bricklayers and the electrical cords and the debris. 

When we returned to the White Swan after the morning outing what did we find in our room?  I would never have guessed this was coming in a million years:  a gift from Mattel.  A mint-in-the-box "Coming Home Barbie", a present for our daughter from the toy company.  She is a blonde, white Barbie with a small little Asian baby in her arms.  It is hard to maintain that level of disgust with the whole Barbie thing when "Coming Home Barbie" arrives on your door.

Coming Home Barbie

Barbie came with a note inviting us to the Swan Room in the hotel: a big room with toys with which families can play and meet other new families. So Tessa and I had our first play dates in the Swan Room where she met Barney! 
Tessa and Barney

It is early Sunday morning as I write this.  We have a full day of site-seeing and hanging out at the White Swan.  Monday our guide goes to the US consulate to begin the formal process of getting a USA visa for our baby. 

Geoff and Gray had an adventure in a Chinese Market while I was playing in the Swan Room. I'm trying to get him to guest blog.

Good-bye Nanchang; Hello Guangzhou

 Geoff, Grayson, Tess at Bayi Park

Yesterday we spent having a final adventure in Nanchang City,then packing and leaving our daughter's home province to fly to Guangzhou and Shamian Island and the famous White Swan Hotel: This is the end of the line for the pilgrimage of adoptive families. All wind up at the end at the White Swan to get Visa's and have the US consulate formally recognize thier children so they can enter the US. 

Grayson at Bayi Park

Our plane for Guangzhou did not leave until 6:20 pm so we had a day to spend in the city, so we are sailing out of Nanchang with a family adventure under or belts. Geoff led us on a walk to a lake park that he had scoped out the day before. I really wanted Tess to have one last look-smell-feel of her home province. She slept most of the way. The pictures show willow trees bending over a pond with pagodas all around. In this park also there was an amusement park and lots of Tai Chi. The sun came out half way through our sojourn and warmed things up a bit. There were many children's drawings that seemed to have an environmental theme.
 A child's drawing

As usual people stopped us a lot to "chat". People who know a bit of English will come up to us and say hello and ask us where we are from. One young man told us he wanted to go to NYC and was a Yankees fan. We booed the Yankees for him. Geoff is quite impressive in his fast mastery of the Chinese language. If you are reading this Vance, Geoff can tell people that we are Americans and that Tess is Chinese. This gets a basic message across that seems to please most curious on-lookers.
 Old man playing and old man singing at Bayi Park
Old ladies smile and laugh and scold us for under dressing our child. She was wearing tights, shoes, a dress and onesie and riding in a snuggli on Geoff's chest. The children we saw in the park had roughly the equivalent of two snowsuits. They looked like the boy in a Christmas story except, they all wear these split pants...basically bundled to the hilt with their butts waving in the breeze so they can pee or poop wherever they stand.
At noon we headed back to pack and get ready. We were determined not to eat lunch in the hotel, but eat at a restaurant and have an adventure. We picked one at random--most restaurants serve some variation on Chinese food. Geoff knows enough Chinese to order chicken and pork and fried rice. The fried rice is great, but all meat is essentially cut up with bones and fat and is not edible in the same way that the Chinese food we get in the states is. We mostly poured broth over the rice. Jian-Jian ate a lot of fried rice. It has a lot of egg in it so she gets plenty of protein. Grayson ate a power bar.

Crazy Nanchang street
Sidewalks are just suggestions
The final stretch of the adventure was crossing the street. You cannot beleive the traffic and mayhem which fills the city streets. Even the sidewalks frequently have cars, motorbikes and bicycles driving down them. We have been honked at on the sidewalk many times. Cars do not stop and look and enter traffic; they simply enter traffic. Stop lights and lane markers are merely suggestions and the almighty horn rules all. Cars do not stop for people in the street (even in crosswalks) unless they are a massive group. People crossing are wise to cross next to buses as the large busses can block traffic from hitting you. You cannot wait for cars to part to cross. You cross lane by lane and pray that they see you and do not hit you. I finally took Gray and made him hold my hand and left Geoff with Tessa to make his own way. Every warrior princess for herself.

We left the hotel at 4:00 for the trek to the airport and Shamian Island. It is good to be moving on, but at the same time, this bustling, fragrant, dirty, lively, uncomfortable and very friendly city will always be the place where we met Jian-Jian. I waved good-bye to the fine folks at the Galactic Peace Hotel. They took very good care of us.
On the way to Guangzhou