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 Trip Log

Fri. 24 Sep  Depart USA
  Our trip actually began on Thursday night, 23 Sep. when we left home to stay at the airport hotel in Philadelphia. Rush hour traffic on Friday morning was not a variable we wanted to interject at the beginning of this trip.
  Friday morning, we boarded a United Airlines flight to Chicago where we met with most of the other 11 families that traveled with us throughout the next 2 weeks. We flew a polar route on United over Alaska and Siberia. It looked cold, for a long time. It was never night. The flight lasted around 16 hours, give or take a day...

Sat. 25 Sep  Arrive Hong Kong
Our arrival in Hong Kong was none too soon, and we were met by our escort Ronald who loaded us on the correct bus (chartered) to make the trip to the Great Eagle Hotel on Kowloon, across the harbor from Hong Kong Island. A very nice hotel, but we were ready for quick and to bed so McDonald's just outside the hotel did the trick. We stopped at a French bakery cafe for some breakfast pastries for tomorrow's bus trip. A level 3 (out of 10) typhoon was lurking at sea.

Sun. 26 Sep  Bus to Guangzhou, flight to Hefei
Our planned departure time for Guangzhou was 11am, so we wandered down to the waterfront to see the sights. As we strolled back toward the hotel, the weather started closing in and we were informed that the bus would leave at 10am to beat the typhoon that had been escalated to a level 8 and was headed for landfall. It was touch and go on the drive out of Hong Kong as the winds whipped the bus around and the driver dodged around standing water on the road while jockeying for position with the truck traffic at about 70 m.p.h.
  By the time we reached Guangzhou airport, the sun was shining and we hoped the flight to Hefei would get out of town before the typhoon made its way north. As we got off the bus we met for the first time De and Helen, our facilitators for the adoption proceedings. They arranged to have our baggage checked, provided the plane tickets, and escorted us through the entire process until we would board the bus to return to Hong Kong on the way out of China.
  We got out just as the rains came, and enjoyed the flight to Hefei in similar style to a US airline. We were met by a hotel bus -- this was the only time during the trip that we were stuffed into transportation that was not quite big enough. Within about 30 minutes, however, we had unfolded ourselves and checked in to the Anhui Hotel. There were cribs in our rooms, and we had a short business meeting where we received updated pictures of the babies. De and Helen summarized the upcoming events through a translator who was an English teacher at a University in Hefei. Each family was assigned a number that would be used to identify us throughout the trip. We started to feel the time getting close.

Mon. 27 Sep  Meet Zia and go through notary court process
At 8am, we were all standing outside our hotel room doors waiting for the call that the babies had arrived. It came around 8:30, and we all jumped on the elevator to the 2nd floor meeting room.
  The babies arrived in the order of the numbers assigned to each family. We were number 9, which was both appropriate and easy to remember since Zia's birthday is 9/9/98. We felt surprisingly little anxiety while we waited our turn to see Zia, because the whole scene of each family receiving their baby played out in front of us. Each family had an official picture taken immediately after the babies were dropped in the mother's arms. The flash bulbs lit the room as everyone swapped cameras around hoping to get a picture of their moment on their own camera. Then, suddenly, number 9 was here. She came to us willingly and did not cry. Before the day ended, we would see a smile with two crooked little teeth showing.
  Two uniformed notaries arrived shortly, and before we even left the room we had completed a short interview, a couple of forms, and Zia was ours.

28-30 Sep  Continue adoption process in Hefei
For the next 4 days, we would remain at the Anhui Hotel. There was very little to do besides getting the babies healthy and getting acquainted. Zia was receptive to us almost immediately. She seemed curious of every new surrounding. Periodically the first night, she would wake up, make some noise, and wait to see who was there. She still did not cry, and before long was sleeping through the night with nary a babble.
  Occasionally, De would drop in to check on the babies or to have us verify some official papers that he was walking through the bureaucracy for us. We saw almost none of the complexity that surely exists when preparing to send children to the care of foreigners like ourselves. We are amazed by the ability of De and Helen to isolate us from this process and still check to make sure each baby pooped that day.
  The Anhui Hotel is very nice, and we were strongly urged to eat all our meals there to avoid possible ill effects of local cuisine. Still, many of the dishes are hardly recognizable to the uninitiated westerner. Never expect what you would expect. The breakfast buffet included in the price of the room was quite extensive, and included coffee, french toast, and scrambled eggs as well as the traditional Chinese breakfast of noodles, steamed bread, tea-boiled eggs, and things we did not sample.
  We had some laundry done by the hotel during this lull in activity. Its a bit of a shocker when you get a bill for 230 yuan for laundry, until you do the currency conversion. (It roughly 8 yuan to 1 dollar). Recommendation for China travelers: To us, it was worth the US$25 or $30 we spent to not be carrying the extra load around for the rest of the trip. In the scheme of things, it doesn't add up to much. While on the subject of costs for services, we made several phone calls to the USA using the direct dial from our room. The connections were universally excellent (better than the ones initiated from the States). We talked with family members and our pediatrician, and spent roughly US$150. I don't know how this compares with AT&T calling card calls, but we felt good about talking to people and would do the same thing over again. There is also Internet access available from the business centers in the hotels. Set up a Web-accessible email account before you leave home.
  Zia had very few medical issues for us to deal with. The health of the children was mostly excellent, with a few skin conditions, ear infections, and colds to keep us on our toes. We were glad to have a good variety of medication along, but additional supplies were available from De. He also had advice for most of the conditions that we encountered, including tips on how to get Chinese babies to drink water (add sugar) and other tidbits of experience.
  At one point, Zia developed a fever that escalated to 103.8 F. Tylenol brought it down, and we put her on a course of antibiotics with our pediatrician's approval. It worked. Recommendation for China travelers: Amoxicillan is readily available in China, but it pays to have your own supply because its hard to communicate what you want and Chinese doctors (and De) tend to want to stop treatment when the symptoms disappear rather than continuing for the usual 10 days as we would in the USA. Refrigeration was available in all our rooms, but be aware that you may have to move during the treatment so don't mix what you can't keep cold. Bring measuring devices and containers for mixing, and bring enough for yourself too because you will probably catch whatever they have (as we did).

Fri. 1 Oct  China National Day (holiday)
The 50th Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China was marked while we waited in Hefei. Sep 30 and Oct 1 are lucky days, so there were an abundance of weddings and celebrations. Fireworks displays took place on the sidewalks outside the hotel. Many, many people were there.

Sat. 2 Oct  Return to Guangzhou
At 10:45am, our luggage had to be waiting outside the door of our hotel room. Porters picked it up at the appointed time, as always. In general, we had plenty of help with transporting luggage -- the possibility that we would have to juggle suitcases, diaper bags, and babies never really materialized. Still it was handy to have a minimum number of bags to keep track of, and there were times where we had to carry bags up a flight or two of stairs. Packing light is still a good idea.
  We checked out of the Anhui Hotel at 11:30, and boarded a chartered bus to the airport. De and Helen took care of luggage, tickets, and gates while we took care of our new charges.
  As soon as we got to Guangzhou and checked in at the White Swan Hotel, we turned right around and walked out to a little photo shop to have the babies' picture taken for the Visa application. Apparently this needed to be done immediately, because we didn't even get to put down luggage in our rooms. About this time, Sherri was in the midst a knock-down-drag-out plague of a sickness that she inherited from Zia. She staggered upstairs, and did not emerge for several days. Daddy got some quality bonding time with the young'un.

3-5 Oct  
Sunday was a day of rest, as was intended from the beginning of time. Monday, the families emerged (sans Sherri, who remained in a dark room trying to shake this disease) for a trip down town to do some shopping. We went to a jade market where the quality of the product is certified by the government. We also went to a large department store to look for baby supplies and groceries. Lines of greeters cooing at the babies, dressed in traditional clothing, and an impromptu photographer seemed suspiciously planted. (Sure enough, a group photo made its way into our hands later). Many unplanted locals also took notice of the group of tall white people with Chinese babies (who would have guessed?) and proceeded to dispense advice, bring their young children for a closer look, and pinch cheeks.
  On Tuesday morning, we gathered in a hotel conference room to fill out forms. The translator was present, and walked us through each field of each form from a template. We reviewed what would be needed at the Consulate, and put a stack together in the correct order. As De would say, "méi wènti!" No problem!
Wed. 6 Oct  Medical exam; Visa interview at US Consulate
At 8am this day, we met in the lobby for a short walk to the medical facility where the babies would get the once over in preparation for the Visa interview. A quick superficial examination verified the general health of all the babies, and the entire group of 11 families were on our way back with sealed medical reports within about half an hour. We divided into 2 groups for the Visa interviews at the US Consulate. The first group went directly to the Consulate; we were in the second group and waited at the hotel until 11:20am.
  Once at the Consulate, each family was called for a preliminary paperwork check. They asked for a few specific items, then said "let me have your documents." This is when we handed over the stack that we carefully prepared the day before. Shortly after this, we were each called for the Visa interview. Basically, you just certify to a notary that everything in your package is still true. They verify your address in the USA, check over the papers, raise your right hand and say "I will," and you are outta there.

Thu. 7 Oct  Return to Hong Kong
The game here was to wait for the Visa packages to be issued from the Consulate. At 2 pm, we met at De and Helen's room in the hotel to settle the final bill and hear a short farewell speech. There were no surprises, except that they didn't charge us for some medication that they had provided. Later, De and Helen took care of picking up the final papers (due at 3pm), and at 4 we boarded a private bus back to Hong Kong. Ronald escorted us on the return trip.
  We arrived at the (now familiar) Great Eagle Hotel, ordered some room service, and tried to catch a few hours of restless sleep. Zia was enamored with the new digs, and did not want to settle down. Little did she know the trip that was ahead.

Fri. 8 Oct  Return home
An early flight back home required us to awake at 4am. Ronald ensured that we were up and at 'em by arranging two wake-up calls. We checked out at 5:30, and headed for the airport.
  Finally on our flight home, we didn't sleep a wink. Zia fared little better, although she did catch a few Zs on the rare occasion when the flight attendants weren't playing peek-a-boo with her. They treated us very well, and even sent us home with a supply of extra baby food.
  On the final leg of the flight, from Chicago to Philadelphia, Zia finally slept. The business travelers around us commented on what a relaxed baby we were toting around with us.
  Little did they know, she was just saving up energy for her next burst of sunshine.

We were met at the airport by sibs and cousins from both sides of the family. We have had great support from our families and friends as we made the transition back to Eastern Standard Time and into a new era of our lives. Thanks everyone.