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Getting Mary: Our Adoption Story

Beginning in early 2004, we started preparing to adopt a daughter from China. We decided to name her Mary, after my maternal grandmother. For about a year, we filled out loads of paperwork, prayed for Mary, waited for several months, prayed for Mary, gathered things for our trip, and prayed for Mary. We felt strongly that the Lord had chosen a specific baby to be our child. For months we yearned to hold her.

After a wait that was longer than expected (and thus very difficult emotionally), we finally received Mary's "referral" on March 16, 2005. The long, hard wait was all but forgotten! We learned that our precious new daughter was in the city of Lianjiang, Guangdong Province.

Lianjiang is in the extreme southeastern part of China, about 200 miles southwest of Hong Kong, and nearly on the same parallel as Ha Noi, Vietnam. Mary was a tropical baby!

We went to China to get Mary in May 2005. This was a wonderful, emotional, educational, life-changing experience. A daily journal of our experiences appears below, with links to pictures for each day. (Most of this journal was written during our trip, so it still includes the verb tenses that we used at that time.)

The journey described below is different, in one significant respect, from that experienced by most parents who adopt from China. Most parents visit three areas: Beijing, to see some of the sights; another city -- the capital of the province where the baby is located -- to get the baby; and Guangzhou, to complete the adoption at the U.S. consulate. But since our daughter was in Guangdong Province (of which Guangzhou is the capital), we had to visit only two areas. We have heard that conditions at some outlying areas and their hotels are less convenient than in Beijing and Guangzhou.

My oldest son created a Web page with additional information about our adoption experience.

My page of tips and "lessons learned" about traveling to China is here. Some Web sites that I found particularly helpful in preparing to adopt from China are here.

A few more pictures of our precious Mary, taken during the first year at home, are here.

Please see the copyright notice at the end of this page.


May 13-14, 2005

This was a long day. We left in the cool darkness of about 5:15 a.m. Eastern time. It was very difficult to leave the children. We hugged each of them while they lay in bed. Dawn cried as we drove away.

Thankfully, the mechanics of our trip to China were uneventful. Although all three of our flights took off a little late, all of them arrived basically on time or a little early. We flew to Chicago, then to Hong Kong, then to Beijing. To Scott's great surprise (based on past experience), we did not have a huge unexpected delay in Chicago!

Our entire trip to Beijing took about 26 hours (although it's a little shorter when one can get a flight directly into Beijing rather than going through Hong Kong). The flight from Chicago to Hong Kong was looooong -- about 15 hours. The Boeing 747 was full, with about one-half Asians and one-half non-Asians. All of the announcements were made in English and Cantonese. They played five movies during the flight, all with Chinese subtitles.

China time is twelve hours ahead of U.S. Eastern (daylight) time. Following the advice of other adoptive parents, we slept off and on during the first part of the flight, but tried to stay awake thereafter, so as to be sleepy enough to sleep after arriving in Beijing at nighttime on Saturday (Saturday morning at home). This must have worked, or maybe the Lord has just blessed us to adjust easily: After one or two days of daytime sleepiness and trouble sleeping at "night," we have felt perfectly comfortable with this 180-degree time change. During the trans-Pacific flight, Dawn pointed out that many of the Asian passengers were sleeping, whereas most of the non-Asians were not; presumably, many of the Asians were returning home.

In between movies, a map showing the airplane's position was displayed on the video screen. Rather than flying in a southwesterly direction from Chicago to Hong Kong, we flew toward the northwest first, through northern Canada, then down through Siberia. At one time, the icon representing the plane's location was very close to the dot labeled "North Pole."

Hong Kong and its airport are beautiful. High, steep mountains rise in the near distance, some of them jutting alone out of the sea. Announcements in the airport are made in English and Mandarin; it was fun to hear and recognize the Mandarin numbers that we had been practicing for several months. We also enjoyed meeting and chatting with some of the other adoptive families in our travel group (all of us clients of the same U.S. adoption agency). All of the babies for our group would be coming from the same orphanage, which is somewhat unusual.

Our flight from Hong Kong to Beijing was on Dragonair, one of the relatively new (or at least newly-expanded) airlines in China. The airplane was a newish and very well-maintained Airbus 321, and the flight attendants were extraordinarily professional and pleasant, although they all looked extremely young. The passengers were mostly Asian, with about eight adoptive families from the U.S. The in-flight meal was an excellent sweet-and-sour chicken. All of the flight crew spoke English (in fact, the first officer was an Aussie or New Zealander).

We landed in Beijing at about 10:45 p.m. Beijing time, very glad that the long trip was over. We kept "pinching" ourselves mentally; it was just incredible to think that we were in Beijing, China. After going through security and customs, we were met by our two guides, Mable and Alison, employees of the China office of our adoption agency. (We are developing a great love for these ladies, and a great appreciation for their sweetness and helpfulness. We could not have done this adoption without them.) After gathering the luggage for all of the families in our group, we boarded a large chartered bus to our hotel in Beijing, feeling a mixture of exhaustion and elation.

On the way to the hotel, Mable picked up a microphone at the front of the bus and told us a little about what to expect for the next couple of days. One of many surges of emotion during this trip came when Mable said, "Thank you for coming to China to adopt our babies." We could have responded, with great sincerity, "Our pleasure!"

Some pictures from our journey are here.


May 15, 2005

This was the first of two days of experiencing several historical and cultural sites in and around Beijing. The Chinese government wants adoptive parents to visit these sites, in order to facilitate teaching the children to appreciate Chinese culture and history as they get older.

But first, we started the day by attending Sacrament meeting at the Beijing Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Usual attendance at this branch (congregation) is about 250 persons (all of them expatriates), although there were more in attendance on this day because the Young Ambassadors and other BYU folks were visiting. It was a very good and spiritual meeting.

The rest of our travel group was, of course, doing other things (including a non-denominational religious service) while we were at Sacrament meeting. Our arrangement with Mable was for us to call her cell phone when we left the meeting, and she would tell the cab driver, on our rented Chinese cell phone, how to get to the group's location. Unfortunately, this plan didn't work because Mable couldn't hear her cell phone ringing, which led to the first of several experiences on this trip that have made us declare, "It's not just a trip; it's an adventure."

After failing several times to reach Mable, we first tried getting a cab to take us back to our hotel; maybe Mable would call us at our room when we hadn't called her after a while. But the driver of the first cab didn't know how to get to our hotel, even though we showed him the hotel's card. He kept pointing at certain lines on the card and asking things in Mandarin. Scott used this opportunity to practice saying "I don't understand" in Mandarin several times -- one of twenty or so phrases that he learned before the trip.

So we got out of that cab and tried calling Mable a few more times. Then we had the idea of asking a cab driver to take us to the "pearl factory," which is where, according to Mable's written schedule, the group would be at that time of day. The second cab driver spoke a little English, but he indicated that there were several places which could be called a "pearl factory." He tried for several minutes to help us figure out where to go, while the cab sat at the curb. We tried to pay him for his time before getting out and standing on the sidewalk again, but he wouldn't accept our payment.

Then along came a very welcome sight: a Caucasian man in his thirties, wearing a white shirt and tie. We stopped him and asked for help. He was a member of our Church, and had just left the meeting that we attended. He said he had lived in Beijing for four years, and he spoke the language, of course. What's more, his home in the States is about a twenty-minute drive from our own house (small world, huh?).

Our Good Samaritan must have stood with us on the sidewalk for fifteen or twenty minutes, trying to solve our dilemma. He used our cell phone to send Mable a text message. Then he suggested that the three of us get in a cab together, and he would make sure the driver understood how to get to our hotel and ride with us part of the way. So that's what we did. Finally, shortly after we arrived at the hotel, Mable called in response to the text message. After several minutes of more "adventure" trying to get Mable on the phone with a cab driver in front of the hotel, we were finally on our way to join the group.

After joining the group and having lunch together, we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The most striking characteristic of Tiananmen Square is its size: about 100 acres. Part of the square is covered and surrounded by buildings and monuments of historical significance. We had a hard time believing that we were in this place, exactly halfway around the world, whose name we had heard so often.

Immediately adjacent to Tiananmen Square is the "Forbidden City," the residence of Chinese emperors beginning in the early 1400's A.D. Scott vaguely remembers hearing someone talk about getting tired walking the entire length of the Forbidden City, and our experience was the same. It is a huge complex of traditional Chinese buildings and successive courtyards. The last courtyard is a very pleasant garden, with old cypress trees and lilacs. (Many poplar and cottonwood trees are also planted in the Forbidden City, as in other locations in the Beijing area. It was cottonwood seed time while we were there, and the seed puffs floating around added to the mystical atmosphere of the Forbidden City.)

In one of the courtyards of the Forbidden City, we saw a couple of dozen Americans in white shirts. Scott asked a few of them, "Are you that group from BYU?" They were, indeed, the Young Ambassadors, and we enjoyed chatting with a few of them for a moment.

Near the end of the Forbidden City, our entire travel group gathered for a group picture. Mable used our digital camera to take a couple of pictures, then a middle-aged Caucasian man approached her and offered to take a picture of her with the group. As soon as she handed the camera to him, he got a mischievous grin on his face, then started running away. Scott -- probably with jaw agape -- said "What?!" then started running after him (alright, this was probably a little foolish). After only a couple of yards, the man stopped, laughed, and said "Just kidding," then rejoined his own group.

This evening, the group attended an acrobat show in Beijing. Having experienced a Chinese acrobat show at Walt Disney World last summer, we (Dawn and Scott) suspected that we were in for a treat. And it was excellent: amazing feats of balance and dexterity; jumping through hoops of various sizes, and at various heights; human pyramids held up by one man balanced on a rolling board; twelve or fifteen bicyles circling on stage, in perfect tandem, with three abreast; ten girls riding one bicylce at the same time. The acrobats were mostly in their teens or early twenties. (Sorry, folks, no pictures of this show; our camera battery was dead and the new ones were back in the hotel room.)

Both on this day and on other days during our trip, we had several amusing experiences trying to make ourselves understood despite the language barrier. Many hotel staff speak some English, but unusual requests are likely to result in blank expressions. For example, in Beijing, Scott called the front desk to ask for a "converter" (China's electrical current is always 220 volts, whereas American products require 110 volts). We actually bought a converter for our trip, but decided not to take it after learning about the strict weight restrictions for domestic air travel within China; our converter weighed about 10 pounds. Also, we had been told that the hotels have converters for patrons to use (this turned out to be true of our hotels). The front desk personnel in Beijing had no idea what Scott was talking about despite his explanation as to the purpose of the item needed, but he heard him typing during the phone call, apparently looking up the word "converter." The front desk person finally indicated that he understood, and that the item would be brought to our room shortly. A knock came at the door a few minutes later, with a young man offering a tiny adapter plug, not a 10-pound converter. (In addition to the difference in voltage, many plugs are shaped differently in China.) Later, when one of our guides explained to them what we needed, the hotel brought a real-live converter to our room. "It's not just a trip...."

Twelve pictures from today's activities are posted on two pages, here and here.


May 16, 2005

This was a very full day. In the morning, we visited one section of the Great Wall of China, near Beijing. (This was the section at Juyongguan Pass.) Imagine a valley with high mountains on two sides, and higher mountains rising in the distance. The mountains are covered with trees, many of them elliptically-shaped evergreens. The air is hazy with humidity, so that the most distant mountains are barely visible. Rising out of the valley on both sides are walls of stone and mortar, perhaps one or two stories tall and 10 or 12 feet wide at the top, punctuated by guard towers every 80 to 100 yards or so. Given that the walls have to rise out of the valley, walking along the top of the wall often involves climbing up and down steps. "Climbing" is an appropriate verb here; the steps are of varying heights, some as much as 12 inches high.

We (Scott and Dawn) climbed several sections of the wall without other members of our group, although we encountered others in the group after our climb, and talked for a while before climbing down. It was neat for the two of us to share this climb together. The wall was crowded, and we sometimes had to leave the security of the handrail to walk around people who had stopped to rest. Many nationalities were represented (perhaps more so than in any of the sites we visited in and around Beijing); we noticed many Japanese and Indian people, for example, as well as Chinese.

Near the end of our climb down the wall, Dawn noticed a Caucasian couple with a Chinese baby, and approached them to ask about their adoption. They had just received the baby recently, and she was so cute! (Not having seen Mary yet, that is.) The mother spoke with a Spanish accent, and Scott asked them, in Spanish, where they had come from. They were from Spain, where Scott served his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We talked with them for a while about their adoption, partly in English and partly in Spanish.

In the afternoon, we visited the "Summer Palace" outside Beijing, which was basically the "Camp David" of certain Chinese emperors. This was a beautiful setting, with many trees, a huge lake, and a long covered promenade with an intricately painted ceiling. After visitors walk to the end of the promenade, a boat with a traditional Chinese motif takes them back across the lake to the beginning. The view across the lake would have been truly stunning if not for the hazy humidity and rain (Mable told us that the best time to see stunning vistas around Beijing is in the fall).

At the Summer Palace and elsewhere, we have encountered, several times, the robust underbelly of growing Chinese entrepreneurship: the street vendor. At many of these tourist sites, vendors walk around selling -- or they set up booths to sell -- books about the site, handbags, postcards, traditional clothing, small tea sets, etc. The hard-and-fast rule in dealing with these vendors is that no price is ever fixed. They all know enough English to negotiate, and they all know the tricks of negotiating. Some of them also know the mechanics of cheating, and they use them. Those who walk around carrying their merchandise can be very aggressive -- following a potential customer, quoting prices over and over, and extolling the merchandise, sometimes taking a "no" as merely a ruse to get a better price. (We learned before the trip that a firmly-stated "bu4 yao4" -- "don't want" -- will make a vendor back off immediately, and it works!)

We have had two very memorable (infamously memorable, that is) experiences with street vendors. At one location, a woman approached Dawn offering traditional Chinese handbags. Although the woman knew English numbers, Scott did the negotiating (not something he exactly enjoys doing). After Dawn had bought one large handbag, the woman pulled out a set of smaller handbags and quoted a price. After much back-and-forth and resistance on the part of the woman (who could see Dawn's interest in the little bags), the woman finally said "OK" to a price quoted by Scott. He repeated the price, and she said "OK" again. (This was all happening as the three of us were walking toward our group's tour bus, which the rest of our group was now boarding.)

Scott pulled two bills out of his pocket, representing the agreed-upon price. But in the process of doing so, he accidentally dropped another bill that constituted one-half of the price. The woman quickly put her foot on that bill and picked it up. Scott gave her one of the other two bills, as the woman handed him the set of little handbags. But now the woman knew that Scott had more money, and she wanted it. So she quoted a higher price -- 150% of the agreed-upon price -- even though Scott now had the merchandise and we were still walking toward the bus (and the rest of the group was now on board). The woman continued to walk in front of us, insisting on the higher price, as Scott repeatedly said no and stated the agreed-upon price. Finally, as we came right to the door of the bus, the woman gave up and left. Painful at the time, but something to laugh about later. "It's not just a trip...."

On another day, at another site, several vendors hounded Dawn and other ladies in our group, even following us down a narrow passageway. One vendor hounded Dawn about buying a little tea set in a box. With Scott's help, they agreed upon a price and we completed the transaction and turned away. A split second later, however, the same vendor held up what looked like the same bill, with a small tear in the middle of one edge, and said something like, "Look, you gave me a torn bill." Gullible American that he is (make that "was"), Scott obligingly pulled out another bill of the same denomination and made the switch.

Several minutes later, after we had escaped the vendors, we were chatting with other members of our group, and learned that vendors had asked at least two other people in the group to exchange torn bills. We wondered out loud why they would do that; could they have given us counterfeit? Scott pulled the slightly-torn bill out of his pocket, along with another bill of the same denomination: They looked the same. He held the bills up to the light: Both had a watermark. But then he looked more closely: Sure enough, the slightly-torn bill had a fake watermark; it was a very faint image, rather than a true watermark. A few days later, in Guangzhou, we saw a newspaper article with the opening sentence, "The central bank yesterday vowed to launch a nationwide campaign against a rising tide of forged currency."

Many of these vendors had seemed so pitiful and desperate to sell their wares that we had felt sorry for them. How could these "sweet" young women have swindled us? One of the ladies in our group expressed indignation over how much money she had lost (we think it was the equivalent of about $38US). Another lady in our group said sincerely, "Just think, maybe she will use that money to feed her young children." Dawn has been thinking that perhaps some of those girls were former orphans, now trying to fend for themselves.

Also today (we said it was a very full day), we visited two locations that featured demonstrations of artisanship, followed by opportunities to buy materials made by the craftsmen, as well as other items typical of China. The first was a jade factory, where pieces of this semi-precious stone are carved into large figures, figurines, jewelry, and many other things. To carve a piece of jade, the artisan holds the piece against a small spinning disk. A small stream of water keeps the disk and the jade from becoming too hot. We learned that jade exists in several colors in addition to the typical green, including white and red.

Prices were negotiable at the store adjacent to the jade factory, although it certainly wasn't as bumpy (or as dangerous!) as dealing with a handbag-seller on the sidewalk! Before coming to China, we had wanted to buy something to represent Mary's main given name in Chinese, "Ling," which means "tinkling of jade pieces." (The character for "jade" in Chinese is a pictograph of three pieces of jade strung together.) So we bought a hanging trinket consisting of several small, multi-colored pieces of jade strung together, as well as a few other small items. Some of the jade figures in this store were huge, such as the figure of a cougar (or other wild cat), about six feet high. We joked with others in our group about buying these gigantic (and extremely expensive) pieces.

The second opportunity to watch artisans, then buy their work, was a cloisonne factory. Chinese cloisonne is a fascinating process that creates beautiful vases and other items. A cloisonne piece is made of copper, with small copper wires welded or glued on in a pattern (usually flowers) and enamel of different colors painted on between the wires. Then the piece is heated and polished several times. Prices in this store were declared not negotiable, and the purchase experience was much less stressful. We bought a few small pieces.

After a somewhat hurried dinner with the group, we left for the Beijing airport to fly to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, the province where Mary was born and where we would receive our precious daughter. We were eager beyond words, a little nervous, and totally amazed that the time had finally come.

Eleven pictures from today's activities are posted on two pages, here and here.


May 17, 2005

This day, referred to as "Gotcha Day" among adoptive parents, was one of the most intensely emotional experiences of our lives, in the midst of the overall extraordinary experience of our trip to China. Mable (our main guide) had warned us to bring Kleenex to the "Civil Affairs Bureau" -- the adoption office -- when we got the babies. She didn't need to; we already knew we would be crying when we first saw Mary, who will be our daughter for eternity.

Imagine thirteen sets of parents (plus a few grandparents and siblings) sitting on a tour bus, going to get their babies. "Exciting" wouldn't capture the sense of reverence, and "emotional" wouldn't convey the intensely of the feeling. To think that we were going to see the child about whom we had prayed and dreamed for months, and to whom we would be sealed for eternity, was simply overwhelming.

The adoption office in Guangzhou is in a business-oriented area of the city, occupying one hallway in an office building, with perhaps ten offices or other rooms. The thirteen families gathered in a medium-size conference room. After we were gathered, the orphanage personnel brought the babies into the hallway several yards from the door of the conference room. Then one of the orphanage workers brought each baby down the hallway and into the room, in a pre-arranged order, at intervals of about two minutes.

We were second. We stood up near the door of the room, and one of the ladies from the orphanage brought Mary in. She looked so precious and so sweet!! The lady gave her to Dawn. Someone (perhaps Mable or Alison) gestured to Dawn and told Mary, "Ma-ma." We talked to her and cuddled her and caressed her. Our tears flowed freely and copiously (there was no time for Kleenex!). For many minutes, we were totally unaware of anything else going on around us.

Mary seemed a little dazed emotionally, but she was not crying. (Out of the thirteen babies, perhaps three of them cried a lot during this first meeting.) Mary has been very willing to look into our eyes from the first moments, and she has been very "cuddly" -- very comfortable and willing to cuddle (Mom and Dad don't mind the cuddling either!!). She likes to hold onto a piece of our clothing while we're holding her. Mary really likes attention, and she loves to be held (these are very good signs in relation to emotional development, for an orphanage baby). Usually, she pouts and gives a little open-mouthed "aaaah" before starting to cry.

Mary is a very active, inquisitive, attentive baby. She has a strong tendency to reach for things; she likes to reach for our mouth or an ear when we're holding her, and she managed to pull off Scott's eyeglasses several times within just the first couple of days! One of our first interactions with Mary on "Gotcha Day" was kissing her hand when she reached for our mouths. (This "reachiness" may sound commonplace to most parents of ten-month-old babies, but it's especially noticeable with Mary, and somewhat significant for an orphanage baby. At a group dinner on the evening of "Gotcha Day," we really had trouble with Mary reaching for our plates, etc., while she sat on our laps, whereas most of the other parents didn't have that problem.) Mary loves to play with toys, especially things that make noise (uh-oh!). She always turns to investigate when she hears noises, and she often watches people curiously as they move around a room. She played "patty-cake" a little when we were still at the Civil Affairs Bureau.

We have been totally captivated by Mary's sweet, inquisitive expression. And Daddy says her lips look like a little rosebud. We think she's the prettiest baby in the group of thirteen -- and our lack of bias is 100% guaranteed!

During the twenty-four hours between our "Gotcha Moment" and the writing of this entry, Mary has gradually become somewhat less dazed emotionally. She barely started to smile before we left the Civil Affairs Bureau on "Gotcha Day." The next morning, she was smiling more, and we discovered a couple of games that made her laugh for the first time: swinging her horizontally in our arms, face-up, while making a playful noise; or giving her soft "nibbles" under the chin. How delightful to hear her precious, though still somewhat restrained, little laugh!! Adoptive parents and other people experienced in infant adoption tell us that the babies gradually warm up to the parents during the first week or so.

After the initial period of cuddling and (mostly parental) crying, each set of parents had an opportunity to talk to the personnel from the orphanage. The main purpose was to ask questions about the baby's history and care. We learned some valuable details about how Mary came to be in the orphanage. We also met the office worker from the orphanage who took her from the police station to the orphanage. This lady was very affectionate toward Mary: She held her for a long time and talked to her lovingly and caressed her, and didn't want to let her go. We were delighted to see that someone had apparently formed an emotional attachment with Mary, which is very helpful in an orphan's developing emotional attachments to her adoptive parents and other family members.

Shortly before we left the adoption office for the day, each set of parents received a bag of materials for the babies, including a few packages of the formula and rice cereal that the babies have been eating (our guides secured these materials from the Civil Affairs Bureau, with money they had collected from the parents earlier). A Chinese character was printed on the outside of the bags. Scott asked one of our guides the meaning of the character, and she said, "Blessing." This was so appropriate as to bring another little surge of emotion: Today was one of the most blessed and emotional days of our lives, fully as powerful as the day when each of our other precious children was born.

Here are some pictures of our precious Mary, taken on "Gotcha Day."


May 18, 2005

This morning we returned to the Civil Affairs Bureau to complete some paperwork and other administrative requirements for the adoption. We were briefly interviewed by two or three Chinese government workers, who asked a few questions about our biographical information (age, occupation, etc.) and confirmed our pledge to treat Mary well as our child. Another surge of emotion came when one of the workers asked, obviously as part of a script, "Are you satisfied with this baby?" "Satisfied"?! What an understatement!! Dawn later told Scott that she wanted to say, "Are you kidding? We got the best baby in China!"

Also as part of the process at the adoption office, the two of us had our picture taken with Mary, to be affixed to the final Chinese "adoption decree." This turned out to be a very good picture, which we look forward to scanning and posting after returning home. Of course, Dawn and Mary are by far the best-looking people in the picture.

Today, we weighed Mary on a scale in the Civil Affairs Bureau: She is 7.5 kilograms, or 16.5 pounds.

After the adoption office, we went to the "security office" (apparently part of an immigration/emigration agency), where a law enforcement officer briefly interviewed us and took a picture of Mary. Also during this visit, we received the "adoption decree," which is mounted in a very nice binder (red, of course). By the way, most of our contacts with Chinese government authorities occur in English, although one of our guides is standing by during some of the interviews, when the interviewer's English is a little shaky.

With this morning's events, our adoption of Mary is now "final" as far as the Chinese government is concerned. Now begins the process of getting permission from the U.S. government to bring her home with us!!

This afternoon we had a much-welcomed respite from the sightseeing and administrative work, to be with Mary a little (and to make some progress on this Web page!). It's getting hard to understand how Mary can hold up her hands, with two adults wound more and more tightly around her two little pinkies.

Mary had her first bath this afternoon since we got her. We've been told that Chinese orphanages usually give sponge baths rather than regular baths, so we were a little uncertain how Mary would react to being in the water. We were happy, then, to see that she liked it, splashing and reaching (of course) for the water trickling from the faucet.

This evening we had another of many meals with the rest of our travel group. We have enjoyed being with our group, eating meals together and riding around in the tour buses. These are very, very good people -- most of them practicing Christians (our adoption agency is a Christian organization), with two or three young pastors or part-time pastors among them. We normally share one or two meals each day with the group.

Mary is smiling and laughing with us more each day, and becoming more accustomed to us. Beginning on "Gotcha Day," Dawn has been telling Mary "bless your cute little nose!" in a sweet, excited tone, whenever Mary sneezes. (Dawn picked up this habit from one of our sisters-in-law.) Mary has now come to expect that reaction: after a sneeze, she looks up at Dawn for the usual exclamation.

In order to help with Mary's transition, we have been including some form of her Chinese given names when we speak to her: either "Mary Ling," or "Mary Guo Ling," or sometimes just "Guo Ling." (We will have dropped the Chinese names by the time we get home.) On Gotcha Day, Scott started referring to her as "Mary Ling, the precious little thing." She is!

Here are some pictures from this day's activities, including more pictures of our precious Mary.


May 19, 2005

Mary continues to open up to us gradually, although she still seems a little melancholy at times. She is babbling more, smiling and laughing more. In the morning, after all three of us had arisen, we sat on the floor for a while and communed with Mary, and she smiled readily. The simple games that parents play with babies, such as lifting the baby up and down, a foot or two above the parent's face -- which would have brought no reaction on "Gotcha Day" -- now make her smile. Sometimes, it is what we are calling a "Mona Lisa" smile -- small, somewhat reluctant, with lips pressed together.

Today, we went with our group to have the babies' pictures taken for their visas, then to have their medical examinations (also a requirement for entering the U.S.). For the pictures, we walked to a small photo shop near the hotel. The babies took turns sitting on a stool, with a supporting parental hand getting caught in each picture. A sudden rainstorm started before the pictures were done, and most of the group huddled together in the tiny shop for twenty minutes or so. These sudden downpours are fairly frequent in Guangzhou, reminding us that we are in the tropics.

After giving up on waiting for the rain the stop, all thirteen families trooped wetly to the clinic for the medical examinations, carrying large white umbrellas borrowed from the hotel. The examinations were very quick, consisting of weighing and measuring each baby, checking vision and gross hearing ability (using a set of noisy toys), and checking heart sounds, heart rate, bones (by palpation), etc. You can imagine the scene in the waiting area at the clinic, with thirteen babies, their parents and other family members, and all of their strollers and backpacks. It's no wonder that people stare whenever the group goes out together. We were a little nervous about having Mary examined by non-American medical personnel, but the clinic was clean and used sterile instruments. The results of Mary's examination were unremarkable.

Mary continues to impress us with her curiosity and quick manual dexterity. She grabbed the tape measure while one of the doctors was measuring her head circumference. He expressed a little surprise, and let her play with the tape while he continued with the examination. Mary has a playing spot in our hotel room, where we keep her toys, and she loves to scoot over to the adjacent nightstand and get into the non-toys stored on the bottom shelf. She's not crawling yet, but she's very close: Leaning way over from a sitting position to reach things, and scooting along when she's on her tummy. Eating at a restaurant while holding Mary on our lap is quite an adventure. "Watch closely, please; the hand [Mary's hand] is quicker than the eye." Scott says that Mary is going to be a star in fast-pitch girls' softball -- grabbing those line drives with lightening speed. Mary has also figured out how to engage a gullible parent in the "I drop it, you pick it up" game.

A few pictures from today's activities (all of them featuring you-know-who) are here.


May 20, 2005

Mary is smiling and laughing more and more, and is acting much less melancholy. She still gives us her "Mona Lisa" smile every once in a while, but usually it's a more relaxed, open smile. She has started babbling quite a bit. Our travel group went to the Guangzhou zoo today, but we chose to stay at "home" -- straightening the room, visiting local shops a little, working on the Web site, and playing with Mary. Another sudden rainstorm today: We went to a little restaurant (very popular with the locals) next to the hotel for a carryout lunch, and were shocked to see that it was pouring as we prepared to leave. A very pleasant Chinese man who spoke excellent English said he was also headed toward the hotel and insisted that we cover Mary's head with his jacket.

Our home for ten days in Guangzhou is the White Swan Hotel on Shamian Island, an island in the Pearl River. This hotel is remarkable for several reasons. This is, first, where almost all adoptive parents (at least U.S. parents) stay when they come to Guangzhou to complete the adoption. All over the hotel and in the surrounding streets and businesses, one sees Caucasian parents with a Chinese baby and perhaps an older Chinese child (it's fairly common for people to come to China twice for adoption). Swapping adoption stories in the hotel's elevators is an almost daily exercise. One wonders whether the U.S. government contemplated the enormous impact on the local economy when it chose the consulate in Guangzhou to process immigration papers for adopted Chinese children.

In addition to the adoption connection, the White Swan is a five-star hotel that deserves it. The elevator lobby on every floor has an attendant who pushes the "down" button for you when she sees you coming and otherwise provides assistance when needed. The hotel's main restaurant has a breakfast buffet fit for a Chinese emperor (paid for by our adoption agency as part of our overall fee), in a dining room with a glorious view of the Pearl River and its constant flow of small commercial ships helping to move China's booming economy. As in many retail locations in China, the country's abundance of workers is evident in the hotel dining room: as soon as your first cereal bowl is empty, one of numerous immaculately-dressed and eminently-courteous attendants whips by to clear it away. This restaurant is so careful about its appearance that the attendants cover the ubiquitous parental backpacks with tasteful mauve cloth covers that blend with the rest of the decor. Every morning's breakfast buffet looks like an "adoption party": about 75% of the customers are members of families who are in Guangzhou to adopt.

Each day, we eat either lunch or dinner at a restaurant with the rest of our travel group, arranged by our guides. The fare is usually Chinese; Scott is probably the only person in the group who isn't tired of eating Chinese food. We have found the Chinese food here to be fairly similar to that in Chinese restaurants at home, except that there's more variety in the sauces, and the sauces are generally spicier. Invariably, we sit at large round tables (about four families per table). The middle of the table is occupied by a large Lazy Susan. The dishes are brought in one by one, usually five or ten minutes apart, and placed on the Lazy Susan. If you see something you want, you verify that no one else is serving him- or herself at the moment, then turn the Lazy Susan until your target dish is in front of you. Sometimes the dishes have serving spoons, and sometimes they do not (in which case you make clumsy use of a pair of chopsticks). We have to ask for forks about half the time. Since our guides are Christians (employees of our adoption agency), they always invite someone to ask a blessing on the food before we eat. So far, they've only invited one of the pastors or assistant pastors in the group. We have chuckled with other groups members about how our group meals are a little more "interesting" now that every family has a baby to handle during the meal.

A few pictures taken today are here.


May 21, 2005

Today, our guides took the group to a "wholesale market" in Guangzhou. This turned out to be a huge children's mall -- hundreds of small stores on three levels, about 90% of them carrying mostly children's clothing. It could serve as Exhibit C ("C" for children) in a description of the exploding Chinese textile industry. Most of the clothes were of a style that one would see in the U.S. (that is, not traditional Chinese clothing, although that was available, too). The prices were much lower than what you would find in the U.S., and were further negotiable. (Imagine taking a cute outfit to the cashier in Babies R Us and saying "I'll give you five dollars for this.") This mall was a bargain-hunting mother's paradise. We had two hours there, and the dads were interested for about ten minutes. Dawn was quite reluctant to leave after the two hours.

While Dawn shopped at the "wholesale market," Scott wandered around the market with Mary in the baby carrier. This lead to some interesting short encounters with Chinese proprietresses and customers. One lady said, "Lucky baby." Another, elderly lady smiled at Mary from a few yards away and gave a "thumbs up" signal. Later, when two young parents stopped for their little boy to see Mary, Scott learned that if you pronounce one or two phrases of a foreign language correctly (in this case, "hello"), the natives might start rattling on in the language, then look puzzled when you say, "I don't understand."

For lunch today, we went with the group to a Chinese restaurant specializing in "dim sum." Neither of us has ever had dim sum before, so we don't know what it means in the U.S.; but this meal consisted mostly of meats, etc., wrapped in translucent skins made of rice flour. Also, seafoods were much more a part of this meal than our other meals in China. Scott liked the wonton soup (too seafoody for Dawn), but both of us have decided that we'd rather have a platter of Chinese food than something wrapped in a rice-flour skin.

This meal also highlighted a couple of interesting differences between American and Chinese dining practices. The Chinese (in restaurants, at least) apparently do not drink much with their meals (we're talking here about non-alcoholic beverages), because many restaurants charge extra for refills. During this meal, one of the couples in the group wanted refills on their sodas, and when the waitress came to pour, they asked her about buying the whole bottle. She seemed very puzzled that anyone would want to drink so much, and it took several moments to make her understand their desire. But in the end, she took their money (the equivalent of US$ 1.20) and left the bottle.

Also, toward the end of the meal, when much of the group was already feeling that this native Chinese dim sum was just a little too different from anything they were accustomed to, the server brought something even more different: a plate of chicken meat, with the animal's intact head prominently featured in the center of the plate, the beak pointing skyward. This lead to a fair amount of merriment and even some hijinks involving the chicken's head and a few digital cameras, leading Scott to comment that the last course in a dim sum meal is laughter.

This evening, our travel group gathered in the hotel lobby for a tradition among American adoptive families who stay at the White Swan: the "red sofa" picture. The parents put all of their babies on a certain red sofa in the upper lobby, and take pictures of them. (The tradition is to do this at the end of the group's stay in Guangzhou, but we did it early because one of the families was leaving early, due to the father's military commitment.) As you can imagine, some of the babies aren't too thrilled to be plopped on a sofa in an unfamiliar place with a couple of dozen adults gathered around, so the pictures sometimes look like depictions of "ancient Chinese sofa torture."

Mary continues to open up to us and relax with us. Her "Mona Lisa" smiles have become very rare.

Some pictures from today's activities (including one of our "red sofa" shots) are here and here.


May 22, 2005

We started this day by attending the Guangzhou Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The journey was a bit of an adventure, though not nearly as much so as our trip back from the Beijing Branch last week. We had a map of the neighborhood, showing the name of the apartment complex where the Branch uses rented space for its meetings. We also had the apartment number ("B" plus a number), but didn't know how to find that apartment within the complex.

To start with, the cab didn't leave us at the right place: the apartment complex turned out to be two or three blocks from where the driver left us. We asked for directions three times to find the complex, by holding up our map and pointing to the complex. Then we had no idea how to find building "B"; the buildings did not seem to be labeled. While we stood wondering what to do, a familiar (and very welcome) sight saved us: a Caucasian man in a white shirt walking by, this time with his wife. They were headed our way.

About fifty people attended the service. As in Beijing, this meeting was only for expatriates. Rather than a regular Sacrament meeting, they had planned a "general conference" meeting for this Sunday. (Twice a year, the Church holds its general conference in Salt Lake City, at which the Prophet and other leaders of the Church speak. Members in most areas of the world can see and hear the conference live by satellite, but not those in China. So the members in Guangzhou watch portions of the conference together after they receive the videotapes.) We were disappointed not to be able to partake of the Sacrament today, but enjoyed the meeting.

We experienced another aspect of Mary's personality during this meeting. Some of the written information from her orphanage told us that she likes music, and we have started seeing evidence of the truth of that statement. At one point during today's meeting, all of the members stood and sang together. Mary was trying (in a very low volume) to sing along, too, basically humming some of the music! She was also intrigued by the experience of hearing her Mom and Dad sing together (along with everyone else around her); she looked at us with great interest during the hymn.

We had a very interesting encounter and conversation after today's Church meeting: It turns out that the current head of the "adoption unit" at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou is a member of our Church. Small world again! We told him we would be at the consulate for our adoption later in the week. We chatted for a while about the work of his unit. We said that his office processes approximately 7,000 adoptions every year (thus, that's how many Chinese children are adopted by Americans each year).

Today, Mary seems to have reached a benchmark in her comfort level with us, in that she has been laughing more today than she was late last week. Her laugh sounds so sweet!! She hardly ever laughed during the first few days after we got her. Also, we saw more evidence of Mary's love of music this evening. Dawn took her to the hotel's playroom for children. She loved a certain toy that made music: she tried to dance to it (in that rhythmic, happy up-and-down movement that sitting infants make when they like music), and she wanted to play it over and over.

Some pictures from today (only one of them not featuring our popular starlet) are here.


May 23, 2005

Today, our travel group visited the "Chen Ancestral Hall" in Guangzhou. According to the site's brochure, the hall was built in the late 1800s (a heartbeat ago in Chinese history) by several Chen families in Guangdong Province, and "served as the hall for ancestor worship as well as temporary residency for the Chen descendants when they came to the provincial capital for official discussion, imperial examination or litigation." This site has some remarkable architecture, as you'll see in the pictures.

For lunch, the group went to a McDonald's restaurant in Guangzhou. Mable told us that McDonald's and KFC are extremely popular in China, and the crowds at this restaurant proved it. Almost everything on the menu was the same as what you would see in the U.S. Scott tried one item that you wouldn't see in the States, however: chicken pieces wrapped in a flour tortilla with a peppery Chinese sauce (he liked it). Also, Dawn said that the breading on her chicken sandwich was much spicier than what you would get at home. But one of our group members who got a Big Mac said it tasted exactly the same (amazing quality control).

We had two experiences at the McDonald's that suggested Chinese young people are a little camera-shy. Just inside the restaurant door was a life-size depiction of Ronald McDonald sitting on a bench. Two girls, about ten and seven years old, were sitting on the bench with "him," and Scott thought it would make a cute picture. He pointed at his camera, then at the girls, but they smiled and giggled and tried to hide behind the bench. Later, when a large group of high school students were in the dining room, three female students stood near some of the American families for a long time, smiling and commenting to each other and chuckling about our babies' antics. We (Dawn and Scott) asked to take their picture; two of them smiled and hid behind Dawn, but the other stayed and let Scott take her picture beside Dawn and Mary.

Mary seems to be fully comfortable with us. (We had read before our trip that this takes about a week, and tomorrow is our "one-week-versary.") We hardly ever see her reserved "Mona Lisa" smile any more. Usually, it is a warmer, more relaxed smile. And when she does give us a smaller, closed-mouth smile, her eyes are fully part of the smile, in a way that says, "Yes, I know you love me. Aren't I the cutest thing?" Mary has also been doing cute little physical things that indicate she is completely relaxed with us, like patting both of our shoulders at the same time when we are holding her and she's in a playful mood.

Tonight, Dawn played some music for Mary in the hotel room, and she "danced" to it and laughed and patted the floor.

Some pictures from today are here and here.


May 24, 2005

This morning, the group went to a big shopping mall in Guangzhou. This mall had a circular design with two large, multi-level atria attached on opposite sides of the circle, as glitzy as any upscale mall in the U.S.. The merchandise was more varied than in the children's mall, including adult clothing, a few restaurants, and a leather-goods store. Scott was pleased to be able to ask for the location of the restroom in Mandarin (not everybody speaks English here!).

Mary has been fiddling with her ears almost since we got her, and we decided, a couple of days ago, to start her on the antibiotic that our physician gave us before we left home. Today, we noticed that Mary's forehead seemed to be a little hot as we headed back to the hotel around noon. We took her temperature this evening, and she had a fever.

As our time to return home draws near, both of us feel that we will miss China. We have gained a great love of the Chinese people, and it will be hard to leave the land of our precious Mary's nativity.

A few (three, exactly) pictures from today's activities are here.


May 25, 2005

This morning, our guides delivered the families' paperwork to the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, seeking permission to bring the babies into the United States. Alison called us shortly after 10:00 to say that the papers had been accepted!

Mary is definitely not feeling well. We decided to forego the Pearl River cruise that the rest of group will be taking tonight.

For dinner today, the group went to a Pizza Hut restaurant. This was a very different experience from our lunch at McDonald's two days ago. Whereas McDonald's was almost exactly like any McD's in the States, the Pizza Hut was very different. A member of our group who works for Pizza Hut's parent company told us that going out for pizza is considered "upscale" in China. We could tell: the dining room was brightly-lit and much quieter than the typical Pizza Hut back home; the decor was very nice, including marble surfaces; and uniformed waitresses scurried around filling drink glasses. The pizza was also different: much less tomato sauce, and the vegetarian pizza on the menu included corn as a topping. But the restaurant had a salad bar that looked just like a Pizza Hut salad bar in the U.S.

During our ten days at the same hotel in Guangzhou, we have developed a great admiration for certain of the surrounding shopkeepers. The best chops near the White Swan Hotel are carved by Michael Lin. (A chop is a signature stamp, made of stone and used with red ink, carved to order with a person's name and usually some Chinese characters.) Michael is around thirty years old (in 2005), and has a young wife and a baby boy born in early 2005. Michael is one of the kindest, humblest, and most sincere people we met in China. His face glows with love and joy. We (Dawn and Scott) stood in front Michael's shop tonight, chatting with him and his wife for a while after completing our purchases. We would love to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them! (To get to "Michael's Place," turn right as you leave the hotel, walk past Lucy's Bar and Café (a popular eatery for visiting Americans), then turn right between the park and the tennis courts. Michael's Place is a small structure on the left side of the roadway, just a few yards from the river.)

Another favorite shopkeeper is Grace, at "The China Doll." She is sweet and helpful, but not a "pressure" salesperson. She helped Dawn communicate with a photoshop person in choosing digital photos to be printed. (To get to The China Doll, turn right as you leave the hotel, then take the first left. The store is on the right, in the first block.) Finally, a very nice shopkeeper named Jordan was eager to improve his English. Dawn mentioned that his store was "tucked away," and he asked her about the meaning and spelling of the term. Jordan had a sign offering a "Free Stroller," but he expressed disappointment that some people never returned the strollers. Dawn explained the implication of "free," and he had her write a sign in English saying that strollers were offered for free during the user's stay in Guangzhou. (Jordan's shop is diagonally across the street from The China Doll, across a little courtyard.) When you visit Jordan's, you might see the sign that Dawn wrote!

Some pictures taken today (including more pics of the brown-eyed starlet) are here.


May 26, 2005

The big event today was our group's visit to the U.S. consulate. Security was pretty tight, including a prohibition against bringing any containers, cameras, or electronics into the building. A little pile of abandoned bags and water bottles lay in front of a tree near the front door.

All of the families in our group, along with about three sets of parents who apparently were not in a travel group, gathered in a smallish, somewhat Spartan room. Each family was called, one by one, to sit in front of a window near one corner of the room, where a consulate employee sat behind a large pane of security glass (like in a bank). Ryan Roberts, the head of the adoption unit whom we had met on Sunday, stood behind the consulate employee, relaxed but attentive. The employee looked at our passports, and at Mary's passport. Mary was asleep in the baby carrier on Scott, and she asked Scott to turn so that she could see Mary's face.

After all of the families had presented their passports and their babies' faces, Mr. Roberts came into the waiting room and stood with the families crowded around in a semicircle. He gave a little spiel about the work of his office, repeating the figure that he had told us on Sunday (7,000 Chinese adoptions into the U.S. per year), and adding that this number accounts for just under one-third of foreign adoptions into the U.S. He then asked all of the parents to raise their right hands and swear that the information we had provided on the consulate forms was correct. He told us that with our babies' immigrant visas, the children would automatically become U.S. citizens when their passports were stamped at the port of entry. Mr. Roberts seemed to enjoy participating in the adoptions.

At some point while at the consulate, our guides handed out the consulate's receipts for the $380 charge for each baby's visa (they have Chinese passports with U.S. visas). A few of us chuckled about the notation at the bottom of the receipts: "No refunds." Hey guys, we don't need no refund!!

Mable let the group decide what kind of cuisine to have for dinner tonight. Although most of the group (except Scott) is tired of Chinese food, the consensus was to have Chinese. You've got to eat Chinese food on your last night in China! So we sat at three round tables with three Lazy Susans, and had a variety of dishes, some familiar, some new, even after our many Chinese meals on this trip.

This evening, we picked up some of our chops from Michael, and gave him a photo of him, Dawn, and Mary standing in front of his shop.

We also spent a lot of time today packing to leave for home. We are sad to be leaving, but we are excited to see our other children, and to bring Mary home with us!

Today's pictures are here.


May 27, 2005

This day seemed longer than the day we came to China. We left the hotel at about 6:30 a.m. (not fun getting a baby ready that early). Mable and Alison took the group to the airport in the tour bus, then said goodbye before we passed through security. We will miss these wonderful ladies. Several times before going to the airport, we marveled over the fact that we were finally bringing our precious baby home!

We flew first to Hong Kong (about forty minutes from Guangzhou), then to Chicago (this was the killer flight), then to our final destination. About eight families in our travel group were with us on the Hong Kong flight, which was on China Southern Airlines. We had a thoroughly-modern Boeing 757 with competent flight attendants wearing red uniforms. They handed out mixed nuts and water for the short flight. The Hong Kong flight was crowded but had a few empty seats, and we saw some humorous instances of other passengers trying to avoid sitting near the babies.

Our fourteen-hour flight to Chicago was on a crowded Boeing 747. This was a very different experience from the trip to China: When awake, Mary is seldom content just to sit and do nothing (how did they know to give a "Type A" baby to "Type A" parents??). So the parent holding Mary, during her wakeful times, was frequently handing her toys, picking them up after she dropped them, and picking up the things that she pulled out of the seat pocket in front of her. We also had some significant trouble getting Mary to sleep, and the passengers around us must have gotten very tired of hearing her cry. We spent a lot of time walking up and down the aisles, trying to get Mary to sleep, to keep her asleep, or to keep her happy.

Upon arrival in Chicago, we walked to customs (a very long walk) and immigration. Mary's passport was stamped in immigration around 3:00 p.m. today, making her a United States citizen at that time! Since Chicago was our official "port of entry" back into the United States, we had to retrieve our checked luggage and take it through customs. As we rode the airport train toward the gate for our connecting flight, Scott commented that he hoped our luggage would make the longish trip to the next gate. After the fourteen-hour flight to Chicago, the flight from Chicago to the East Coast was a piece of cake.

At our home airport, we waited for our luggage. And waited. One piece of luggage came, then we waited some more. Scott finally went to the United baggage office, and was told that our other three pieces of luggage were not on our flight. As he was submitting a claim form to the baggage office, a second piece arrived on another flight from Chicago. But that was all; the other two pieces were brought to our home over the next couple of days. The lady at the baggage office said it's not uncommon for luggage to be delayed after going through customs.

After taking the parking shuttle to our waiting car, we arrived home at about 10:00 p.m., and what a joyful reunion! A couple of our older children had literally been pacing at the front window. It was so good to see everyone again, and we were so thankful that the children had been safe while we were gone. Soon after arriving, we knelt down together to thank the Lord for His protection.

The star of our arrival, of course, was Mary. The children came out to the garage before Mary was out of the car, and they ooh'd and aah'd over her for several minutes while Dawn held her at the back seat. "She's so precious!" "She's so pretty!" "I can't believe she's my sister!" Mary seemed slightly dazed by all the sudden attention, but she quickly started smiling and reaching for their faces.

The final pictures from our trip are here.

*****

How do you write a conclusion for the journey of a lifetime, a journey to the other side of the world to get a child who will be ours for eternity? Our lives will be forever changed by this experience, and not just by having another child. The experience has made us richer in so many ways. About five weeks after we returned home, extended family members came from various parts of the country, and we took Mary to the temple of the Lord, where she was sealed to us for eternity by the Priesthood of God.


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