Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Treated to refusal

Feeding Chloë is a slow process. It consists of a series of attempts to persuade her to take a spoonful of food. Some of these attempts are successful, but often they are rebuffed. We typically have four or five different foodstuffs available at any given meal, and she will cheerfully eat several bites of (say) scrambled egg, then refuse to touch it again until she has had her fill of something else. I suppose none of us wants to eat all the meat, then all the carrots, then all the potatoes and so on.

At the end of the meal we take a final tour through the food choices of the day. Only when she has rejected a final bite of each of them do we determine that her meal is at an end. It reminds me of a phrase used to describe lumber that has been treated with preservative for outdoor use. The preservative is applied to the wood under pressure until it will take no more. The product is then labelled as "treated to refusal" which I think describes our post-prandial daughter very well.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

One week at home

This is the first post in a week. Apologies to those who have been checking for more frequent updates. I'm hoping to post an update about once a week in future, probably at weekends.

As I'm sure you can imagine, we've all been fully occupied this week with adjusting to life as a family in our own home. The first few nights were rough on Stacy and me as Chloë had difficulty sleeping through the night. Ten timezones of jetlag was probably the main cause, not to mention a new house, new smells, new bed and a whole new country. No matter how many times I sit Chloë down and explain to her how the earth rotates on its axis, she refuses to grasp the concept that she should be asleep when she wants to be up and vice versa. We have now had three good nights in a row, so I think she has finally adjusted.

We took Chloë to the pediatrician for her initial examination on Monday. Everything seems to be OK so far. She tolerated the drawing of blood surprisingly well. The highlight of our week has been collecting four separate stool samples in little plastic jars in order to check for parasites.

Gomer The Dog's life has changed forever. I think he is still in shock. He is excited to have a new little person in his life, and seems to understand that she needs to be treated gently. Chloë is slowly warming up to him, although her initial reaction was fear. She is only about 1/3 his size, so I imagine it's a bit like an adult sharing space with a fully grown 600 pound bear of unknown temperament.

I'm sure you all want to see some more pictures, so here they are. Please keep the comments coming. It's the only way I know anyone is reading the blog.

Happy in her bib, because food can't be far away. Posted by Hello

Cheerios continue to be a hit. Posted by Hello

The three of us have a diverse set of passports. Chloë is now an American citizen, but for our homeward journey she travelled on her Chinese passport. She will get an American passport soon. Posted by Hello

Gravity continues to be a fascination. Posted by Hello

Our friends were kind enough to welcome us home with banners, signs... Posted by Hello

... and balloons, which are great fun to play with. Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Home at last

We arrived home yesterday at 6pm. The travel was every bit as brutal as we expected, although the flights were all on time and uneventful. The worst part, as we anticipated, was landing in San Francisco after a long overnight flight, yet still having a 3-hour layover and a 4-hour connecting flight ahead of us. We were very glad to see our friend Sue, who also has a daughter from China, waiting for us at O'Hare.

Chloë, in contrast, had a wonderful time. She is a happy flier, and when she wasn't sleeping she was playing with her toys or once again enjoying the turbulence. Unfortunately she is new to the concept of jetlag, so she was restless and fussy during her first night at home until she finally settled down at 5am. This didn't do too much for our night either, as you can imagine.

So today we have all been a little groggy, but we have managed to keep Chloë awake all day with no nap, in the hope of her getting a full night's sleep tonight (and us too). She is sleeping now, and we are soldiering on with unpacking, laundry, and in my case the Australian Grand Prix, Formula 1 being my only sporting vice. Her day has consisted of a series of firsts: first ride in her car seat, first visit to a grocery store (actually two grocery stores, which will surprise no-one who knows our habits), and first meeting with several neighbours. Her initial encounter with Gomer The Dog was traumatic, but she is getting used to his presence and we hope they will be the best of friends in a few days.

Chloë has remarkable resilience and pluck, and it takes a lot to get her upset, even when she's tired. The first 18 months of her life have conditioned her to cope with far more traumatic experiences than a simple series of flights and some sleep disruption. For this we are grateful, and her fighting spirit is an inspiration.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


This will be the last update from China. It's 11.30pm. The bags are packed and ready for a 5am pickup. The alarms are set for 4.30am to give us time to wake Chloë and get the three of us ready for departure from the hotel at 6am sharp. We fly first from Guangzhou to Hongkong, then from HK to San Francisco, and finally on to Chicago. It's a 26-hour marathon that should get us home between 6 and 7pm on Friday.

Some highlights from the last couple of days:

Today we went to the US Consulate to swear that all the forms we have completed are accurate. This is a formality, but a necessary step. All Americans adopting in China must process their children's immigration paperwork at the Adopted Children Immigrant Visa Unit at the Guangzhou consulate, no matter which province the child comes from, so everyone ends up here eventually (hence the reunion of our group). The official told us they processed 7000 adoptees last year. In the afternoon we had our final meeting with Bob where he handed out our travel documents, including the widely coveted immigrant visas in our girls' Chinese passports. They will travel on their Chinese passports, and will become US citizens when the plane touches down on US soil. Actually I hope we touch down on concrete, otherwise something bad will have happened.

Yesterday's highlight for Stacy was a visit to a local elementary school. Our translator was kind enough to arrange for her to be the guest of an English teacher there for a couple of hours. She enjoyed it very much and was fascinated by the differences between the American and Chinese school systems.

Yesterday's highlight for me was the same foot massage that Stacy had enjoyed on Monday. I cajoled and persuaded four of my brothers-in-adoption to join me, some with reservations, but we all enjoyed the treatment, which includes a foot-soak in water hotter than I thought I could bear, and massage of the neck, shoulders, arms and back before they finally stopped poaching my feet and worked on those. Further details are sealed under the "what happens at the foot massage stays at the foot massage" protocol.

Yesterday evening we dined as a group at the fabled White Swan Hotel. This is a 5-star property and was the first "joint venture" hotel development between the government and western business interests in the 1980s. They have a lavish Western buffet there which is certainly high-quality and tasty, but which hardly qualifies as an authentic Chinese experience. It's also hellishly expensive, as are the hotel rooms, which are more than 3 times the cost of the perfectly serviceable Victory. The White Swan is only 2 minutes walk from the Victory, so we get to take advantage of the shops, restaurants and other facilities without having to pay their room prices. Both hotels are on Shamian Island, which is a small man-made island in the Pearl River in the centre of Guangzhou. The island is the home of many restaurants and hotels, as well as the American Consulate and other diplomatic missions. It has a colonial history and a faded British Empire feel about it.

The hotels on the island are filled mostly by adopting American families. Everything on the island is geared around this large and constantly churning population of American adoptive parents. This lends a somewhat artificial air to the place. It finally hit me yesterday: it feels like we're visiting an adoption theme park.

Here in Adoptionland we have all the usual features of major US theme parks. There are restaurants to cater specifically to the adopting visitor. There are shops selling baby supplies, souvenirs and services such as laundry and internet access. There is also, as at Disney, an "official" park hotel, the White Swan.

As with most theme parks, it is somewhat detached from the real world. Many Americans come to Guangzhou at the end of their trips and disappear into the Swan, not emerging until their bus leaves for the airport. They never even leave the island. This is a shame as they miss out on the real China. This came home to me when I took a short walk across one of the bridges to the mainland and instantly found myself in the middle of the traditional Chinese medicine market, selling piles of exotic mushrooms, buckets of live scorpions, dried snakes, entire antlers and all other manner of strange things. What amazed me was the sheer quantity and variety of some of these obscure substances that was available. You want dried snakes? What size? How many sacks?

So my final thought from China is to urge you to come here and experience all of its fascinating diversity. I have enjoyed my visit more than I thought possible. (Of course, adopting such a special daughter doesn't distort my perception at all). Whether you come to adopt or simply to see the sights, please don't miss out on the true China by holing up in your westernised hotel room. The benefits of learning about a different culture far outweigh the risks of running into something you're uncomfortable with. Plunge in and enjoy it.

Next update from home, probably not until Saturday.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Medical exam and a morning excursion

Enough of my legal difficulties. Here are some pictures from the last couple of days.

Yesterday afternoon we walked down the street (nothing is any further than "down the street" here) for the babies' medical examinations, which the US government requires. It was reassuring to have our children examined by a doctor for the first time. All are well. Here you can see Chloë screaming at the ENT exam as she has tambourines shaken at her ear and tongue depressors shoved in her mouth. Posted by Hello

This morning about half of the group went out for a sightseeing trip to Yun Tai Garden (a very pretty garden a bit like the Chicago Botanical or Kew), the Chen Shen Academy which is an old private residence converted to a museum, and finally, and somewhat bizarrely, a knife shop. Here is a family snap at the garden. Posted by Hello

A big pot at the garden with a silly woman standing next to it. Posted by Hello

Something or other is prohibited by this sign. I don't think I was doing it, but I can't be sure. Posted by Hello

Three wise babies: Emily, Chloë and Grace in the frowned-upon strollers. Posted by Hello

Last night was "girls' night out" for the mothers. They went for a foot massage at this interesting-looking establishment. 70 minutes of foot, neck, shoulder and back manipulation for 50 Yuan (US$6) was met with universal acclaim. I am going to try it tomorrow with a couple of the other brave boys. I'm glad they care about my spondyle: I've always left it to its own devices, whatever it is. Posted by Hello

Trouble with the law

Yesterday I found another of those signs that display the noise level. This time I stood in front of it for a few moments, bellowing at it and watching the reading rise from the ambient 45dB to over 70dB. I felt very pleased with myself. Only then did I realise that the sign was located directly outside a police station. As the sign is presumably there to enforce the laws prohibiting excessive noise, I zipped it and left the area without delay.

In related news, this morning I went for a walk. There was a ramshackle barrier across the road, but three Chinese people moved it aside and walked on, so I followed them. Soon I was standing outside the US Consulate security checkpoint. A very nice man approached me and asked if he could help me. I replied "No thanks, I'm just out for a walk," not realising that there were probably several cameras and guns pointing at me. He told me the stretch of road outside the consulate was closed, and would I please exit this way. After meekly protesting that there was no sign to warn me of the street closure, I duly left.

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