Our Adventure in China
We traveled to Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, and adopted our
daughter on February 25. I'm not an author, but I think I can write this from my
heart. I'll try to keep it brief, pardon the punctuation! Words cannot express
the pure joy that Marissa has brought us. The Lord is very gracious, and His time is
truly the best time.
First, our history. We were married in 1988 and saw our
first fertility specialist in Jan. of 1990. In June of 1996 we hit rock bottom with
that. After years of telling each other (and everyone else) that we would never
adopt, we decided to adopt. I guess it takes some of us longer to get to that point
than others. Now that we have Marissa, we know that God had intended for us to have
HER all along. We saw a newspaper article on
Father's Day weekend of 1996, by Jim Higgins who had adopted a daughter from China.
Knowing that a domestic adoption was not for us, and taking into account that Alan
had spent a great deal of time in Asia with the US Navy (and loved it), we started
checking into agencies concerning Asian options. After making numerous inquiries and
phone calls all over the place, we ended up with Holt International, and cannot say enough
good about them. We were pleased from start to homecoming! We filed our application
with them the
last week of Aug., 1996. We were pleased they would work with us, even though we
would be special needs due to our ages, and the special needs reorganization was looming
overhead. We literally worked on something adoption related every day until our
dossier was sent to Beijing on Dec. 20,1996. By this time we had been
informed that our waiting time would be very uncertain, and we were given the option of
switching to another country, but our hearts were already in China. We found the APC
We kept ourselves incredibly busy, doing all sorts of things
around the house that we knew we'd wanted done for a long time. We did everything
from organize 10 years worth of photographs to refinishing the woodwork in the house.
However, we really didn't do much in the room that would be Marissa except
for a few things that we knew we'd want done regardless of whether or not a child would
occupy that room.
On December 5, Alan was at work (12 hour shifts) and I stayed at
school to finish up a lot of things in my classroom. Usually, I went to school on
Saturdays to take care of a lot of odds and ends, but I had the feeling that I wouldn't
want to go to school the next day. By the time I got home, it was 6:55 Central time.
My heart stopped when I saw 6 messages on the answering machine, four were from our
agency. Praise the Lord that the wonderful people at Holt left us a home phone
number of someone to call "to receive a good message"! I quickly
called Alan, as I knew he would just be leaving work and told him that I just wanted to
give him something to think about on the way home, and told him I suspected Holt had our
referral. During that half hour that it took him to get home, I paced and made a
list of questions that I wanted to ask.
By the time Alan got home, I was so nervous that I was in tears.
We each were on a phone, when we heard the joyous news that we had a referral of a
child in Yiyang Social Welfare Institute in Jiangxi Province. Her name was Yi Li Lan
and was born on July 19, 1997 - She was only 4 1/2 months old! Yikes, not what
were expecting - we had requested ages 0 - 2. Her special need was listed as a heart
murmur (atrial septal defect). We were encouraged to wait for the paperwork to
arrive before accepting the referral, and
unfortunately, it didn't arrive for 11 days. The only additional information on the
paperwork was her height and weight. We accepted our referral that same day.
We then busied ourselves gathering the dreaded second dossier documents, which we
were being told to gather, "just in case". Of course, we had just sent
them to be authenticated the day we received word that they would not be needed.
Our travel date was delayed by the Chinese New Year. The
time between referral and notice of a travel date was the worst part of the whole adoption
process. We started slowly gathering things to pack during the last week of January
and were actually sort of glad that we had so much time to think about it.
(Although, if someone would have called and told us to be on a plane in 24 hours -
we would have been thrilled!) We finally received a date on Feb. 6 and were told to
be in Hong Kong on Feb. 22 for orientation. We worked with
Dorothy at Azumano Travel , and were very pleased. We would leave on Feb. 19, the
day that Marissa would turn 7 months old. We then started packing in full force!
Just a few words about packing. We took the advice of
someone and vaccuum packed as much as we could in gallon size ziploc bags. We would
put about 10 diapers in a bag, kneel on it, and zip it up! We did this with the two
blankets we took for Marissa, her snowsuit, onsies, socks, underwear, and whatever else
wouldn't wrinkle. This made a tremendous difference. Just remember, the weight
really adds up when everything is so compacted! We tried to limit the
amount of clothes we took for ourselves. (We thought that for the sake of space and
time, the laundry service at the hotels was money well spent.) My Mom found a
stroller made by J.Mason at K-Mart that fit in our suitcase, and we simply packed around
it. It folded
in half the opposite way of an umbrella stroller. (I hope that makes sense, when folded,
it was a flat rectangle.) We're glad we had it along. We only used it in the hotels,
but Marissa was very content to sit in it and people watch, while we ate meals! We
had a Sara's Ride which worked well for us,too. (We also used the Sara's Ride to
secure her to us on the flights - especially during take off and landing. We don't
know how secure it actually made her, but we felt a lot better!) We packed
everything we thought we really wanted along and were a few pounds overweight on the
flight from Hong Kong to Nanchang, but were not charged any overweight fines.
We went to Hong Kong a couple days early to allow our bodies to
adjust to Marissa's time clock and to do some sight seeing. In our opinion, if you
have time in Hong Kong, some of the things worth doing are: Victoria Peak (we
enjoyed the tram ride up and took a taxi down), Kowloon Park, walk around the market
areas (easy to find Asian dolls), definitely visit the new "Bird Garden" (very
easy to get to with the MTR - just take it to the Prince Edward station), also visit
flower market street if you do go to the bird garden, (It's pretty much right by the
entrance to the bird garden,) The Jumbo restaurant is sort of a fun touristy type
thing (I think it's billed as the world's largest floating restaurant), and Alan said to
be sure to mention the Bull & the Bear - a British type pub where the sailor's used to
hang out. (the food is very good, I really can't remember how the prices were).
We went to Toys 'R Us, and remembered someone had mentioned the Hong Kong version
of Monopoly, which we found and liked, and then had to drag all over China!
Toys 'R Us did have a big selection of cars seats, about the same prices as in the
US, perhaps some were even a bit more expensive, they also had a large selection of
Chinese - English flash cards, which were lots cheaper than the ones we saw later at the
White Swan. While in Hong Kong, we'd suggest riding the subway (MTR) as much as
possible, its probably the quickest, easiest , and cheapest way to get around, except for
the Star Ferry, which is also a must do. Just a few words on the MTR (subway)... we
felt very safe using it, it was very clean, and simple to use. By using it, we could
get relatively close to wherever we wanted to go, or connect to a bus that would take us
the rest of the distance to wherever.
We stayed at the International House YMCA, which was very nice
and reasonably priced, breakfast was always very good there. In the past we had also
stayed at the Eaton, which was very nice, but also rather pricey. By Sunday
morning, we had figured out who two of the couples in our travel group were, and did a few
things together. Monday morning, we had our orientation, and the rest of the day for
ourselves. Tuesday morning a very excited group of 7 families met in the lobby to
proceed to the airport where we would fly China Southern to Nanchang. The flight was
fine, and service was good. (Alan said the aircraft used were German).
When we arrived in Nanchang, we had arrived in another world.
We enjoyed our bus trip to the Lake View Hotel and had our introduction to the
famous traffic. All we have to say is that we saw only one accident the entire 16
days in China, and since you can't do anything about it, just sit back and enjoy the
sights! Remember the saying "in Nanchang, stoplights are only a
suggestion". Crossing the streets really isn't so bad...once you start walking,
don't stop, the cars WILL miss you. We saw hundreds of very talented bike riders,
who could haul anything on their bikes. We saw everything from loads of lumber, 6
foot high loads of laundry, and entire households being moved.
The Lake View Hotel was a great place to stay. We were to
meet our children in the hotel around 7:00 that evening. I think I burst into tears
when I saw the crib set up in our room, but I really don't remember much about what
happened between arriving at the hotel and meeting Marissa. The Lake View Hotel is
circular, and the center is hollow, so you can see the entire corridor. We were
asked to wait by our rooms, and the babies would be brought to us, after they were cleaned
up in our facilitator's room. The babies were being brought by a 7 hour train ride.
We knew that our children were coming from 3 different orphanages, and that the
other child from Yiyang was a three year old (who was an absolute delight, after getting
her first few hours of terror). When we saw the three year old, we knew that the
other child with the aunties was our daughter. It took a bit of time for the 3 year
old to settle down enough for the orphanage director to
leave their room, and we wanted to abide by their wishes to stay by our rooms, so all we
could do was watch Marissa on the other side of the hotel. Someone took a photo of
Alan with his fingers to my neck taking my pulse during this time...I don't remember any
Having the babies delivered one by one was wonderful, as far as
the camera and /or video department was concerned. Everyone took pictures of each
other's special moment. When Marissa was brought to us, she really didn't cry, she
just sort of had a bewildered look on her face. About 2 minutes after we had her in
our arms, we were given an opportunity to ask the orphanage director and caregivers
questions. They took their time and tried to answer the whole list of questions we
had written up ahead of time (23 questions!). Unfortunately, the only questions they
really could answer were about eating and sleeping habits. We had a small tape
recorder along and are glad to have the conversation on tape. They told us to keep
her clothes "for her to remember China". We later were able to buy some
split pants type outfits to replace the clothes we kept.
We unbundled her very slowly. She was wearing 5 layers of
clothes, two of which were heavy jackets. Each layer was tied on around the wrists
and around the waist. The bottom layers were wringing wet and smelled like
either an incense or wood smoke. At this point that smell is still very clear in my
mind! Marissa looked very healthy, other than being much smaller than we were
expecting. We had received an update on Dec. 16 (more than two months earlier) which
listed her at 17 1/2 lbs. She was no more than 12 lbs. when we got her. She
looked just like her referral picture, but with a bit more hair! She had an orange
powder of some sort all over her. It was really thick in her ears and skin
creases. Someone thought it was de-lousing powder...we really have no idea. Other
than the orange stuff, sweat, and having an acre of dirt in her belly button, she was
really quite clean! We gave her a sponge bath, put her into a pajama, fed her
a bottle, and she fell asleep. What a wonderful feeling to have a child
fall asleep in your arms - I had been waiting for that for a long time!
Unfortunately, it has been a rare occurence since then, she is happiest about going
to sleep when she is simply placed in her crib with a blanket against her cheek. She
often wakes up at night (or during naps) and sort of "licks" her blanket a few
times, we suspect as a security measure. (Can babies get hair balls?!)
Marissa was extemely quiet and curious during these first few
hours. We were amazed at how alert she was. Alan baptized her that night,
before we phoned home. We slept very peacefully that night. She only woke up
at midnight for a bottle. Her caregiver had told us that she drinks 4 - 5 oz.
every 3 hours! Yikes! She DID need a bottle that often during the day!
Marissa would not take her bottle even slightly cool, and the playtex disposable
bottle liners worked great for us. Some of the children were in need of a
doctor's care, mostly for mild cases of bronchitis. Many of us had antibiotics
along, but the Lake View Hotel had a doctor on staff, who did treat some of the
children with amoxicillin for an extemely reasonable rate! (I think the exam and
medication was a total of $8 US). The girls responded very quickly to the
The next morning, the last couple received their daughter.
We then registered our adoptions at the Civil Affairs Office. Our pictures
were individually taken here, and mounted on our paperwork. The interview was no
problem, we had been told that we may need to WRITE a statement as to why we wanted to
adopt from China, how we intended to care for the child, and promise never to abandon or
abuse her. We did have a statement written out so that we could simply copy what we
had written and wouldn't have to think on the spot. As it turned out, we were not
asked to do this! We were orally asked a few questions, asked to sign, and
give our thumb print. When the foot print time came, Marissa had plenty of ink left
on her foot, and we had her travel journal along (The International Adoption Journal by
Mary Petryl - which we loved) and put her foot print on that day's page, she still
had plenty of ink on her foot to put another footprint on a piece of hotel stationery
which will go into her baby book. We were all set to do this, so it only took a few
seconds, and the officials didn't seem to mind. After the adoption was registered,
each child was given a porcelain plate by the adoption officials. That afternoon, we
went to the Ministry of Justice and finalized our adoptions. If I remember
correctly, we were only asked 4 or 5 questions. We walked back into the waiting room
(which was somewhat removed from the offices), and what a feeling to have the rest of the
group applaud, and someone from our group picked up our camera and immediately took our
photo as a forever family - adoption completed!!!!
We spent a total of 6 nights in Nanchang. We waited for the
Chinese passports and for our papers to be translated by the notary. During this
time we were taken on short tours by our agency, which were all optional. We went to
an art musem, a restoration of a former prince's palace (Teng Wang Ge), we saw Renmin
Square (the second largest city square in China), went to a department store, visited a
rural village, and were taken to some sort of an "ethnic restaurant run by a minority
from SW China" (we never did
get the name of the place - but I think it was across from the Jiangxi Hotel- it was a lot
of fun), we also saw some sights that deal with the history of the Chinese military.
We spent a lot of time just wandering around Nanchang. It was a great time.
Nanchang is a university town, so many young people would come up to us to practice
their English. They would usually end up translating for the crowds that would gather!
Everyone would want to know why we had a Chinese child, how old she was, and where
we were taking her to live.
People also wanted to know if we loved the child. By the third day with Marissa, we
had our facilitator write us a note in Chinese answering each of those questions in a nice
paragraph. We did gets lots of thumbs up, with the phrase "lucky baby"
added. The language barrier didn't always allow us to get across the point that WE
were the lucky ones to have her. Yes, the women would check out how many layers the
children were wearing, and if they weren't satisfied, we would hear about it! The
crowds sometimes got a bit overwhelming, but we just kept smiling!
On Monday afternoon, March 30, we flew to Guangzhou. The
children all did pretty good on the flight. It was great to have Barbara from Holt
meet us at the airport with bellboys from the White Swan! That night we
went over our paperwork for the consulate with the Holt staff to be sure everything was in
order. We unpacked a bit, ordered pizza from the Song Bird Restaurant in the Hotel,
and went to bed.
The following morning, we went to the medical clinic for the
exams. Marissa was weighed and measured (5.8 kgs, about 12 lbs, 12 ozs. and 24 1/2
inches). A doctor felt her stomach, listened to her heart, looked in her ears (from
over 12 inches away) , looked in her throat, and clapped his hands in her face.
Done in less than 10 minutes.
On Wednesday, we had our consulate interview. Everyone's
seemed to be a bit different, but ours was over in 5 to 10 minutes. The following
day most of our group took a tour to the Chen Family Academy, a jade factory, and the Qing
Ping Market. The visas were picked up that afternoon around 4:00. After that
each family left at various times to catch their flights home.
While in Guangzhou, we wandered around and did a bunch of
shopping. The shop on the stairs IS a good place to shop. We had nice chops
made for all of our nephews and nieces for Christmas (medium size ones for about $6 each).
The White Swan Deli does have good deserts! We found water and diet coke was
cheapest at a little stand next to the photo place were visa pictures can be taken (not
far from the White Swan). We ate at the Tree Restaurant (good), as well as
accidentally eating at the restaurant NEXT to
the Tree Restaurant. We didn't realize that all of the sidewalk tables were not for
the same place!
(pay attention to where the tablecloths stop). We had inquired about a table, and
were ushered down an alleyway full of dining rooms. We were given one of the very
few empty tables. The menu was 6 - 7 pages long, and contained MANY items that had
intestines, heads, "medicinal stuff" , etc. But, we found 5 dishes that we
thought looked pretty safe and loved them! It was one mistake we were glad to have made!
We also ate at Lucy's, which was okay. We went to the Nan Feng(?) department
store to look for something like baby dimetapp, and as the husbands said, we found
everything but that! Marissa's Grandfather loves to have fun, so Alan couldn't
resist buying Marissa a pair of shoes to wear whenever Grandpa Zimmerman babysits. They
have squeakers in the toes! We also found some children's CDs, Isomil formula, a
bell for my bell collection, and a rattle that was light enough for Marissa to hold on to.
The department store is just off the island, across from a park that has a
big ferris wheel. The Qing Ping Market was a great place to visit. Yes, the
"meat department" does require a strong stomach, but I'm glad we went. We
saw all sorts of "delicacies" from scorpions to wild boars, and creatures of
every size in between. It seems that early morning or late afternoon is the best
time to go. We also were sure to visit the Hard Rock Cafe one evening with a
families from our group - great time! Marissa loved getting out and about. We
spent very little time in our hotels during the day. She seemed comfortable in the
Sara's Ride and would sleep for hours while we walked
On Friday, a family from our FCC group arrived at the White Swan,
so we were able to spend an evening with them and their second daughter from China -
Another real sweetheart. We were thrilled to be able to cross paths with them.
We left for home on Saturday morning. Just a note.
Please, check your luggage all the way to your final US destination FROM
Guangzhou. Yes, you'll need to reclaim it for customs at your point of entry, but it
save many problems in Hong Kong. A group of about 6 families were in line in front
of us to check in at the Northwest counter at the Hong Kong airport after arriving on the
flight from Guangzhou. Their bags were not checked through, and Northwest then
needed to print out the tags for all of their luggage (a sizable amount), and identify all
of their bags. This took a considerable amount of time. Please people, try to
take everything in stride while on your journey. This is where we encountered the
only outwardly rude people, and unfortunately, they were the "ugly Americans".
They made quite a scene as they insisted that others from
their same group had cut in front of them in line. We had taken the 8:15 flight from
Guangzhou to connect with our 11:05 flight from Hong Kong. We finally reached the
counter at 11:10. When we told the woman at the counter that our bags were checked
through, she smiled and asked us to wait a moment. She then had someone else take
over the window, and personally took us through the airport, taking us to the front of
every line of waiting people and took us directly to our gate, where they issued all of
our boarding passes, straight
through to our final destination of Madison, WI. Due to weather, our flight did not
take off until Noon.
Marissa handled the flight very well. She only fussed for
about a total of 40 minutes all the way to Minneapolis. She took little cat naps
which added up to about 3 hours of sleep, and the rest of the time we tried to keep her
entertained. We had about a dozen babies on our flight. The stewardess told us
that the record number babies they had had on the Hong Kong - Minneapolis flight was 26!
Thanks to the great advice by Holt and our travel agent, we breezed through
Immigration and customs. Our flight to Madison was without incident, except that by
this time Marissa was way over tired! She didn't cry or fuss, she was just really
squirmy and obviously unhappy about more sitting!
The feeling we had when our plane was landing in Madison really
can't be described...I think it was a combination of nervousness (we knew a crowd was
waiting), excitement, exhaustion, and RELIEF! Someone had a video camera at the
airport, and I still can't watch it without crying my eyes out. We knew when we
started the adoption process that there was a child in China that was in our hearts, and
now she was in our arms. At the airport, we saw just how many other people held her
in their hearts...and couldn't wait to hold
her in their arms!
And that is the beginning of our story...