Our third and final stop on this adoption journey is the city of Guangzhou, China. All adopting families must travel to Guangzhou because that is where US Consulate is and where the children get a travel visa to enter their new home country. Guangzhou is located at the southern tip of China and has quite a tropical climate. It is on the same latitude as Havana, Cuba. We were lucky to be visiting this city in the month of October, as the temperature was lovely and warm, but not unbearably hot.
October 25th, 2014: After a tough travel day the day before, the last thing we wanted to do was to wake up early and take our daughter to her medical appointment. Nevertheless, that’s what was on the schedule! All adopted children must have a medical check up before being cleared to leave the country and enter their new home country.
James was up early, as usual. It doesn’t matter what time he goes to bed, James wakes up between 6-7am every day! While Mei Li continued to sleep soundly, we kept the lights low, took showers and tried to organize the carnage of luggage from the night before. Jim and I thought it would be best if I took James down to the breakfast buffet, while he waited with our sleeping little girl. This worked out perfectly since James was really missing my “full attention” at this point in our journey.
The breakfast buffets at both of our previous hotels (Beijing and Wuhan) were fantastic, but this buffet was over the top awesome! James and I filled up on all sorts of amazing things and grabbed a yogurt drink, a banana and a muffin for Mei Li. When we got back to the room, Mei Li was still sleeping and Jim headed down for his own breakfast. I tried to tidy up the room a bit while James watched some Mandarin cartoons. It wasn’t long before Mei Li woke up, and I got her dressed and ready to get her medical exam. Dressing a little girl is so much fun!
We met the other Holt adoptive families (about 10 in total) in the lobby of the hotel where our new guide loaded us on a large bus headed for the medical facility. It was interesting to meet up with the other families that we had met in Beijing, now that they had their new children with them. After leaving Beijing, everyone split up, heading for their child’s province, and all the families meet up again in Guangzhou. It was a bit more chaotic on the bus now (compared to Beijing), as some of the newly adopted children were a bit unhappy.
After the disaster on the plane last night with Mei and her seatbelt, I knew that I was going to have to work hard at insisting she sit and wear a seatbelt when riding in a moving vehicle. Last night’s flight was only 1 hour and we had a 13 hour flight back to the states to tackle in just a few short days. Mei Li was also still convinced that there were delicious snacks in our backpacks, and so I had to have Jim hide the backpack in his seat. I gave her the yogurt drink, muffin and banana from the breakfast buffet on the bus ride, but still she wanted the “special snacks” in the bag. Sneaky girl! She quickly learned the words, “All gone.” and for the most part, was pleasant on the bus ride to the appointment. That pleasantness would quickly disappear the minute she realized the doctors were going to look at her body.
We arrived at the medical building and were instructed what to do once inside, but the guide was not coming inside with us. He would meet up with us in the building later, but had other business to attend to first. Thank goodness Jim was there to listen to the directions, because I seemed to always be entertaining Mei Li or answering James’s frequent questions, that I always missed the directions! After a short wait in the lobby, we headed upstairs, via the elevator, and when the doors opened, I knew it was going to be a long morning. The place was already packed with tons of families. I could tell that not all the families were adopting families, so I was not sure if this was just a standard medical facility for people of China to get check ups, or if its sole purpose was for people who would be traveling outside the country. Regardless, I was instantly thankful for the Ergo. Although Mei Li is happy and friendly, her hyper alertness is best harnessed in the Ergo if you know what I mean! First we had to have several photos taken of Mei Li, similar to the passport photos. These photos would be used as part of her visa application, and eventually on her “Certificate of Citizenship”. Then we had to wait in a long narrow hallway containing two rows of seats. There wasn’t anything for the kids to do, and we stupidly didn’t bring any toys. Thankfully, another family had a few matchbox cars they were willing to share with Mei Li. Jim enjoyed playing with Mei and the matchbox cars while James and I moved to a separate location where we talked quietly together. He was really stressing today about his recent “wounds” from the frequent bites and scratches from Mei Li and needed some alone time with his mom. After about 30 minutes, it was our turn to move beyond the long hallway and into a series of three examining rooms: “Ear, Nose and Throat”…”General Body Exam”…and “TB test”. Each room brought tears and a level of fear we had not experienced out of Mei Li before, with the final room being the most torturous for her. Parents were not allowed to go into the TB test room where the nurses would draw a small amount of blood. It was quite sad to hear her scream through the doors, but after just 3-4 minutes, she was back in our arms again. Even though she had big tears streaming down her face, and she was wailing at the top of her lungs, it was nice to see her reach for us when the door opened and the nurse brought her out. We held her for a few minutes until she calmed down, and then set her next to her brother who had tuned out all the crying with his friend’s video game. She quickly forgot her troubles and wrapped her arm around James….and although he was fearful of her teeth and claws, (I stayed close by to monitor!) she just smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.
That afternoon, we had a Visa Check Appointment with our adoption agency (Holt International), and again…I was grateful to have Jim tackle that on his own. James and Mei Li both took naps, which seemed like some sort of miracle. I, too, found the silent dark room rejuvinating. As amazing as each moment of this journey was, I felt like I was running on reserves. Jim was gone for quite a while and returned with more paperwork and more information to digest. Thank goodness I was rejuvenated from my rest!
At the Visa Check Meeting, Jim was very impressed with how efficient and organized Holt was, as he simply needed to pull out certain documents from Christine’s (mega organized) folder, and put it into a plastic folder that was supplied by Holt. The Holt representatives walked around like a couple of third grade teachers making sure that their students were following directions and only placing those documents indicated in the folder. Jim had a few questions as he rifled through the documents, but there were some other very helpful adoptive parents there ready to point out which document was next to go into the folder! Since Christine handled all of the paperwork up to this point, Jim was grateful to have the help from the others!! The meeting itself was rather fun for Jim, as he enjoyed seeing all the families together in one room all preparing for this important visit to the consulate. Jim sat next to one of the recently adopted boys and was also watching another one riding in an ergo on the back of his new dad. He thought about how unique this experience was and yet how normal it felt given everyone in the room was experiencing the same thing. With the consulate folder ready…we’re one step closer to bringing our ‘Mei Mei’ home!
While at that meeting, Jim also discovered that it was possible to order “Papa John’s Pizza” and have it delivered to the hotel! On my heavenly Western food…YES! That evening, we took the kids to the playground/courtyard level, found a stone picnic table and enjoyed every bit of this “luxury”! It was really awesome to watch the kids run around, explore the waterfall, walk the paths and bridges and play on the plastic playground. We stayed until past dark.
October 26th, 2014: This entire adoption trip has been pretty scripted for us by Holt International and Lotus Travel. Each day we were told what time to meet in the lobby, what to bring with us, and where we would be going that day. Today was a day that we didn’t have anything on the schedule. Many of the families were taking taxis to Shamian Island, which is a popular destination for adopting families. There are traditional shops, famous photo spots and plenty of opportunities for people watching. We decided that we would do the same. The paperwork that we had received yesterday had a page of places we might want to go to in the area. It was written in both English and Mandarin, and we could use it to show the taxi drivers where we wanted to go. So we ventured out on our own with that paper in hand.
Driving in a taxi was always an adventure with Mei Li for several reasons. One – she liked to try to open the doors while it was still moving. Two – she liked to annoy her brother by scratching and biting him. Three – she was not required to ride in a car seat. We got really good at keeping watch for her quick grab at the handle, keeping her on the opposite side of the car as James (for his protection) and holding her tight for the quick stops and lane changes. Once we arrived at Shamin Island, we walked slowly along the main street of shops, looked at some fish in large aquarium tanks (someone’s future dinner, for sure) and took in all the sites. We saw an entrance to a park area where there was a playground, people playing hacky sack, doing tai chi, and dancing. It was really nice to see people of all ages enjoying the nice weather on this fine Sunday morning. It was also great to run into familiar faces of the few other adoptive families while we were walking around, but we were not able to avoid the many Chinese people who took great interest in our blended family. The constant staring is something we’ll never be used to I guess! One family approached Mei Li, who was riding in the Ergo on my back and began asking her questions. I mustered up some courage and attempted some Mandarin sentences. I told them, “Zhè shì wǒ de nǚér. Zhè shì wǒ de ér zi.” (This is my daughter. This is my son.) They were surprised, nodded and responded with something I couldn’t understand, although I was trying to. At the same time, another woman came up and took over the conversation. She spoke very quickly and pointed at each of us, and the other couple nodded and sighed as they looked at Mei Li. It made Jim and I uncomfortable, so we smiled and walked on.
We were quickly closing in on lunch/nap time, but I really wanted to get Mei’s picture by the bronze statues that so many other adoptive families have done before us. It’s sort of a tradition. We took a guess as to where they were….down a beautiful tree lined street…and sure enough, we found it! Mission Accomplished!
That afternoon, Jim encouraged me to join a shopping adventure with the other adoptive families to a jade and pearl market …sans kids! He stayed back at the hotel for nap time, handed me some money, and “pushed” me out the door! (I have to admit, it didn’t take much arm twisting!) Being on the bus with all the other adoptive families, but without any children in tow was a really weird feeling, but I knew it would be a long time before I would be in this situation again and I “forced” myself to relax and enjoy it! We stopped at the jade market first, and although it was really interesting to walk the many, many aisles of stores selling jade, I didn’t buy anything here. We had made some purchases in Beijing at the jade market, so I felt that unless I really found something I couldn’t live without, I’d save the money I had for the pearl market. I was surprised by the number of children in the market area. It was Sunday, so there wouldn’t be school for them that day, but I felt badly for them sitting in a 6 foot by 8 foot stall all day long with their parents. They all had such sad faces, as they stared out at the people walking by.
The pearl market was absolutely enormous….like 5 floors tall and what seemed like city blocks in length. Our guide told us that she would take us to a store that sold authentic fresh water and salt water pearls, and to stay within the vicinity of that store or we would get lost for sure! I felt overwhelmed by the selection of pearls. I planned to get a strand for Mei Li to have when she was older, either for confirmation or her wedding. After a short walk of the store that our guide recommended, a saleslady from the store, with very good English, helped me with my purchase. The pearls were individually knotted onto the necklace strand and I was allowed to pick out the clasp. She gave me a set of pearl earrings as well, free of charge! I can’t wait to give this necklace to Mei Li when she’s older!
That night, Jim suggested having dinner at McDonalds, which was just around the corner from our hotel. I am not a fan of McDonalds food at all, but Jim is not an adventurous eater. So, in the light of my afternoon shopping excursion without children in tow, we ate at McDonalds. Look at the cute photo we saw of China’s attempt at celebrating the Western holiday of Halloween! So Cute.
October 27, 2014: Today was probably the best day we had in Guangzhou. We visited the incredibly popular Chimelong Xiangjiang Safari Park.
Before arriving in China, we knew there would be some “optional excursions” at an “additional cost” that we weren’t sure we were going to take advantage of, but this was one I definitely wanted to do. Although I didn’t know how Mei Li would react to the live animals, I knew it would be something that James would really enjoy. And boy, did he ever enjoy it, as did we all! I wouldn’t classify this attraction as a zoo….it was far better than any zoo I’ve been to. (San Diego, Toronto….not even close in comparison!) Every part of the safari park was impeccably designed, and it was super clean…even the squatty potty bathrooms were pretty clean. Although this day was a long, full one…both the kids were really well behaved. Mei Li rode in the stroller for most of the day, which was the first time she would ride in one. This had the added bonus of allowing James some worry-free time to enjoy the sites without fear of getting bitten or scratched. It also allowed my back some relief!
We started out the day with a wonderful 45 minute safari train ride, where it was easy to see tons of animals. There were animals around every corner. Caretakers would entice the bears and tigers to stand up or jump to a rock for a piece of food. It seemed like every animal was as curious about us as we were about them! James wanted to sit with his friend, and they ended up one train car behind us. Mei Li sat on my lap the entire way, and took great interest in my chewing gum! Despite the narration of the tour being entirely in Mandarin…the safari train ride was 100% worth it!
After the train ride, we decided to get some lunch, which was just like any lunch you might buy at an amusement park. Fried chicken, rice, soda….whatever…we were hungry and it tasted just fine! I managed to get Mei Li to use the squatty potty, but not James….oh boy, this could’ve spelled out trouble later in the afternoon, but thankfully it didn’t. The boys couldn’t wait to get into the Jurassic part of the park, so after lunch we walked down a misty, rain forest path. We encountered all sorts of prehistoric animatronics that moved, roared and spit water. James was thrilled! The culmination of the walking path was a huge cave like structure that housed two giant dinosaurs that appeared to be ready to fight. It was dark, loud and scary. We thought Mei Li would be scared….but she wasn’t!
After the Jurassic area, we meandered through a bird sanctuary, the primate area, the snake house, fed the giraffes, saw a monkey show and visited the famous panda mama who birthed triplets a few months before. We realized at that point that we were still only about 1/4 of the way through this giant park and we needed to be back at the gate by 2pm which was in just 30 minutes or so. At that point, we breezed past the white tigers, the flamingos and several other animals by the shortest route to the gate and sure enough, we were one of the last families to board the bus. Opps! The kids were pretty wiped out, and before we had even pulled out of the parking lot of the Park, I said the magic Mandarin words for “sleeping” and Mei Li curled up on my lap and feel fast asleep. Perfect.
Here is a video of our day at the Safari Park: http://youtu.be/_OV8yBeJKY0
That night, we recreated the same “Papa John’s” experience at the playground as two nights ago. This is where Mei Li demonstrated that she didn’t discriminate when it came to biting other children. A sweet boy, who was adopted 5-6 years before from China and was returning to adopt a younger brother, fell victim to her fangs. He sobbed in his mother’s arms where I tried to explain that she didn’t mean to hurt him, and she was just excited to play, but she didn’t know what to do when she got overly excited. Then he looked at me most seriously and asked, “Why did you pick a girl who bites?” We all had a good laugh… well all of us that weren’t bitten that is!
October 28, 2014: We went from having the best day in Guangzhou to the worst…but also the last full day. Today we would head to the US consulate for Mei Li’s visa appointment. A few months before leaving for China, there was a world wide “glitch” in the visa issuing department and many adoptive families had to extend their stay in China for several days until the kink was ironed out. Our appointment time was in the first block of the day, so we felt pretty confident that it would be a painless process. Boy, were we wrong. Take a good look at these smiling faces in their cute “red, white and blues”, because it didn’t take long for the meltdowns to happen when the Consulate ran into a “glitch in the system”.
Mei Li is a late sleeper, so the 7am meeting time in the lobby with the other 6-7 families was rough on our little girl. To be fair, it was rough on all of us, even our early bird, James. On the bus ride to the Consulate, the guides passed out the paperwork that we arranged in a folder a few days before and explained what would be happening when we arrived. The guides were not allowed into the Consulate, so we needed to pay close attention to their directions. We were not allowed to bring in phones or other electronic devices. Our snacks and drinks had to be in clear containers/ziplock bags. We would enter through some tight security, and wait for our turn to process Mei’s visa application. And wow…did we wait.
Looking back, it was not as bad as the “glitch” that happened a few months prior, but at the time, it felt pretty awful. The first family to be called to the window began their process, and that’s when the system decided to shut down. Apparently, it was a problem with their Internet connection and they could only process half of the application until the server came back online. Their internet connection was intermittent for the next few hours, but our applications could still not be fully processed. The second round of adopting families with appointments at 10 am arrived and were really surprised to see that we were still there. By almost noon, we were out of snacks, out of patience, and still out of luck. We were told that since they had tried to open our application twice, the system locked us out and we wouldn’t be able to try again until after 2pm. With heavy hearts, we left the consulate and met our guides back at the previously agreed on meeting point – the medical building from a few days before. The guides were confused and unsure of what to do next. After a few minutes of discussion, the families convinced them to take us back to hotel for lunch and naps. The kids were really stressed out…and quite frankly…so were the adults.
Back at the hotel, we ate a quick lunch and Mei laid down for a nap while James went to his friend’s hotel room. I can’t say enough about how grateful we were for the other families! Having a support system while on this trip is so important! Jim made his way back to the Consulate with the other families who weren’t processed during that first morning slot and waiting to get processed…AGAIN. This time, he waited on a different floor, and since the system was back up and running it only took minutes to finalize everything. Thank goodness!
Jim returned quickly and took James and Mei Li to the pool with another adopting family. This is where were learned that Mei Li is not afraid of swimming. Since we have a pool, this is a blessing…but swim lessons are going to be a must!
While the adventures at the pool were happening, Christine was working hard at reducing and condensing the amount of “stuff” we had to take home. When we purchased our return flights, we chose the itinerary that got us back to our home city at a decent hour, but this came with a down side. Our connection in Detroit was just over an hour long, and we would need to get our little Chinese citizen through US customs. So, we opted for “carry on” only for this grand adoption adventure, and that meant parring down our belongings. A friend of mine gave me the idea of packing clothing that I wouldn’t mind leaving in China which would free up space for souvenirs, and that’s just what we did. Each time we departed a city (Beijing, Wuhan and now Guangzhou), we left pieces of clothing or shoes that we didn’t really like or want anymore, and that left us each one carry on bag for the way home. James and Mei Li also had backpacks with goodies and games for entertainment and I had a purse with passports and paperwork. Poor Jim would have the job of maneuvering the 5 carry on bags through the next 3 airports!
This evening, Holt organized a dinner cruise evening for all the adopting families. At first, we weren’t sure we wanted to go, because of sheer exhaustion, but in the end we were really glad we did. It was so nice to spend this beautiful evening with the other adopting families, casually cruising the Pearl River in Guangzhou, China. The night was clear, dark and the buildings along the the edge were lit up to provide a beautiful colorful show. On the boat, we were entertained with some traditional music and then a tea pouring ceremony. Best of all was the company of our new friends who we have grown so close to over the past two weeks.
October 29, 2014: Today is Visa Pick Up day, and many families have scheduled to depart China this evening. Holt advised us that we should not try to book flights for this day, as if there was a problem with the issuing of visas, it would be an expensive fix to change flight itineraries. We decided to heed their suggestion and wait one additional day. I think everyone was itching to get home, and after the visa was in my hand, I desperately wanted to jump in a taxi headed for the airport too, but what was one more day!
Jim kept the kids happy with some Mandarin cartoons, while Christine went to the final check out meeting with the Holt staff. Holt went over everyone’s travel plans and then passed out some immunization records from the various orphanages. We can’t stress enough how amazingly organized Holt has been with every step of this journey. There were almost a dozen families in our travel group, each with their own itinerary, their own issues/concerns, their own personality ….and yet, every family felt happy and secure with the service we were getting from Holt.
After we had the Visa and completed the final check-out with Holt, we passed the time with more swimming in the pool, and then we ventured out to a little “mall” near the hotel to find a few souvenirs. With the exception of the jade markets and pearl markets, we really didn’t do a lot of shopping at all. We knew that space was limited in our suitcases, and we weren’t sure of additional expenses we were going to face with Mei Li’s medical condition, so we bought a few meaningful things, but didn’t go over board.
October 30, 2014: Today we leave China. This day is heavy on the emotional scale, as I know it means two completely different things : We are bringing Mei Li home with us to be part of our family forever, but she will be leaving everything she has ever known behind. When we started this process to adopt, we only looked at it from the angle of it being a positive thing to add to your family through adoption, but after reading and learning more about adoption, there is also a side that involves great loss on the part of the adoptee. This is not something we’ll ignore, but we will focus more on the positive as Mei Li grows up. We will provide everything Mei Li needs to become the person she is meant to be, the most important of those things being the intangible ones like Faith, love, self confidence, responsibility, perseverance….etc.
With the bags packed the previous night, we were instructed to have our luggage outside the hotel room door at 4am, and to meet in the lobby ready to check out at 7am. As we walked out of the hotel room, I started the stopwatch on my iphone. I would stop it over 25 hours later as we walked into our home for the first time with Mei Li in my arms.
This is not “Good bye, China!”…this is “Hello, World!”
This video documents our final days in China: http://youtu.be/T50gGjhYCJk