Friday, November 11, 2005
Ah, Jet Lag.
Here's another reflection, since I'm up, on our adoption travel experience. Unlike most of the families in our travel group, we stayed in one location (Guangzhou) the whole time since our daughter was from the Guangdong province, and she was brought to us in the same city as the U.S. Consulate in China where adoptions are processed. That is part of the reason we felt so strongly about the poor choice/location of the China Hotel.
Also, for those of you planning on doing laundry in China, here's fair warning: when we had our guides pass our dirty laundry to their service of choice, it was neither cheap nor perfect. Though about 1/3 cheaper than hotel laundry, it did cost about $15 per bag of laundry (using the hotel laundry plastic bags). In addition, though the clothes came back clean, folded and wrapped in plastic bags; they also reeked of what we recognized as a Chinese incense fragrance. Whether incidental or on purpose, we recommend that any of you sensitive to such smells make it very clear to your guide(s) that you do not want any such perfumes added to your clothing. We'd recomment that you hand-wash your clothes if at all possible, to remove the possibility of any problems. Of course, for us, keeping up with 3 adults & 3 young children was a bit much to ask of me, which is why we ended up deferring to the laundry service.
Oh, and with regard to formula and clothes. We were told by AWAA not to bring too many clothes or formula since both could be "easily purchased" in China. We did not find that to be the case, especially for good quality clothes. If you have a young daughter that you're adopting, we'd recommend if possible bringing clothes ranging from 3 months younger to 3 months older than her age. Rarely are kids bigger than their typical age group, and often they are much smaller. Emmaline, though 9 months old, fits into 3-6 months old clothing (12-17lbs recommended, she only weighed 13 lbs at the medical exam). We also wish we'd brought more American formula—we only brought a small sample can of Nestle Good Start provided by our pediatrician—we switched her over within a day of receiving her, and she's gobbled it up since. The orphanage had been providing a half-half mix of rice cereal & Chinese formula through the bottle, but we frankly feel that American-made formula provides at least if not more nutrients by itself. "Your mileage may vary," of course.
If you do bring clothes, be prepared for illness along the way, of the diarrhea sort. Many children, including Emmaline, made a habit of spitting up and diarrhea. One family's little girl went thorough six changes of clothing in one morning cuz of the "runs."
I don't want come off like I'm complaining and just griping. It's just that so much of the in-country travel experience depended on our guides' approach, and I think it's the "little things" that can make or break a trip. We feel that the in-country guides failed to really work hard at keeping us up to date on upcoming events—since we were unable to attend several of the group tour events. A nightly briefing or printout of the next day's events would've been especially helpful. Except for a random comment from one parent or another, we might've missed some significant meetings. We're happy with the end result—a new member of our family—but feel that a number of improvements could've made the trip much more pleasant. Every single travel group member that we spoke with agreed that they wished the travel was shorter and that the travel guides were more transparent with upcoming itinerary items.
Having traveled in China before, visiting relatives, Lois suggested that many Chinese nationals often assume that Americans are simply loaded with money to burn. Perhaps that explains the choice of touring destinations and stores; as well as a normal desire to display a "better face" of China to foreigners. Yet most if not all of our fellow adoptive parents were of modest means—though rich perhaps compared to most Chinese nationals (though with proportionally higher cost of living in the U.S. as well). I would hope that future travel itineraries and guides, rather than assuming that we're well off, would provide more modest & economical options to American couples going to adopt children.
One more note: we traveled, as you know, with our two young boys, ages 3.5 and 18 months. I'm not sure if we'd bring them both if we had to do it again. The older one had a tough time behaving with all the changes and living in a hotel room; the latter had a real time adjusting to the new surroundings and timezone. The result was frazzled kids and frazzled parents. That being said, I'm thankful that they could've been there for the experience, and especially Matthew (the older one). They've both, I think, bonded that much more quickly with little Emmaline as a result of having been there. I think we'd have missed our boys and they us terribly if we hadn't brought them. So in retrospect, I think I still would've opted to bring them; but without Lois' brother Tim to help it would've been probably disastrous. As it was, it was hard but a positive experience for all.
I'm also grateful that Emmaline took to us, it seems, as quickly as we took to her. While initially somewhat reserved in her behavior, within a couple of days, she warmed up to us; and is now quite generous with smiles now that we're home. I think it helps that she's younger and also that we ourselves are Chinese and thus similar in appearance. Several other children adopted in our group had very traumatic transitions, including one young girl who spent the entire week and half practically glued to her new mother—and bawling otherwise. It wasn't until the last couple of days that she began to warm up to her two new older sisters (blond) and not bawling at the sight of her adoptive dad. So we're grateful that the transition has been seamless.