John and Amy Crane

Part I
June 8, 1997

Dear Friends and Family,

We returned home about a week ago with our baby Sophie, and while life is hectic and exhausting, it is also a joy. A little bit about how we became a family (otherwise known as the great and LONG American novel):

In December 1995, we finally agreed that adoption was the best way to build our family. By the end of January of 1996 we were focusing on China, and by February we had selected an adoption agency and the paper chase began.

We spent several months collecting birth and marriage certificates; having medical checkups; requesting HRS and police clearances; gathering references; having a home study done; and countless other things that all would be put into a dossier. All of these documents had to be certified by the appropriate State Attorney General, and then sent to a Chinese Consulate for authentication.

While all this paper was being collected, our fingerprints were taken and sent to the FBI and our home study was sent to the INS for our application for an orphan visa (I-171H). Boy, were we excited when we received that impersonal form letter in June, telling us that the consulate staff in Guangzhou would be expecting us! All we needed now was a baby.

In July, just as our documents were almost ready to go to China, our adoption agency contacted us and suggested for a variety of reasons that we may want to change agencies. We weren't quite ready to change gears, but after a bit of research, we selected Harrah Family Services out of Houston, Texas. Amy had gotten to know John Harrah through the APC listserv (a large group of people adopting from China connected via e-mail on the Internet). So our paperwork completed to date was sent to Texas, and when John's Georgia Birth Certificate finally found its way back to us (another long story), everything was ready to go to China.

On August 16, 1996 our paperwork was sent to China, and then the really long wait began. When we first started out, we were told to anticipate a predictable process that would take nine months to a year. We expected to have our baby home by Christmas of 1996. However, like us, many other people from US, Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain,.... had also heard how relatively predictable and painless the China adoption process is, with a resulting flood of applications. The two Chinese government agencies that handled the paperwork were swamped and reorganized. In May, one of the Chinese agencies lost in a power shifting. And the government reorganized a few more times in an attempt to streamline the process and deal with the growing number of dossiers arriving in China daily.

We remained hopeful, and would probably not have survived without the support of other members of the APC e-mail list, some who were waiting and some who had returned and shared their stories, travel tips, and advice, and the support of the Tampa Bay Families with Children from China group.

Finally, one day, it happened! April 17, 1997: John had just returned from a business trip to Columbia, and we didn't answer the phone during dinner ("probably just another pesky telemarketer"). John rushed off to Church after dinner for a meeting, and as Amy was cleaning up, the phone rang. It was Jackie Harrah. "We have a placement for you." Not many details. Yu Xiao Cui was born March 17, 1996 in Jiangxi Province, China, and was in the Xin Yu City Social Welfare House. A bit older than we had expected, but we were thrilled. The Harrah's anticipated that we would travel by the end of May; more information and a picture would arrive by Fed Ex on Saturday.

Well, that Fed Ex man never may have seen such a commotion before. We were out the door waving him down before he got to our house. Picture taking, ripping open the package. And there it was. A wallet sized photo of a three month old baby. And six pages of Chinese characters....

Off to Kinkos to make color copies and enlargements. John tried to translate some of the characters (that degree in East Asia Studies, with Chinese Language, was finally paying off). Our baby's surname "Yu" is the one given to all babies at the Xin Yu orphanage. "Xiao" (pronounced show rhymes with how) means small or little. "Cui" (pronounced tzway) means hummingbird or kingfisher (both green birds, we later learned a better translation is "Emerald" this is a popular girl's name in China). Sophie's length and weight at three months indicated she was well cared for, as did her chubby cheeks in her picture.

We decided to name our baby Sophie, after her grandmother (John's mother), who was also born in China (her parents were missionaries). We kept her given Chinese name Xiaocui as her middle name, since that is all she really has from China. (Also, "X" is a cool middle initial.) We were fortunate that John's parents had a friend from China, Jiangxi Province! talk about coincidences! visiting the next week. So we sent the pages of Chinese characters to them to see if they could make sense of it. He (Tony Chen) was able to provide accurate translations of our baby's name and the other babies in our "group" (our adoption agency usually sends people to China individually, but four families' referrals had come at once two of whom Amy knew from the APC e-mail list), and confirmed that the baby seems healthy (based on a June 1996 medical report). Tony's sister is still in China in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi Province, where we would most likely travel and she and her husband had just purchased a car and would be glad to show us around.

So the really long wait for travel approval began. Amy decided not to go to Europe with John at the beginning of May, so that she would be able to make travel arrangements and get things organized if need be. On May 12 we got The Call! Our babies would meet us in Nanchang on May 25. The scramble to make travel arrangements began. With a little over a week's notice, there were few spaces available, but thanks to Louie Yi at Lotus Travel we had our round-trip tickets to Beijing and in-China flights and accommodations arranged by May 15. John returned from Europe on the 16th, and the rush to get organized and pack for a May 22 departure began (plus child-proof the house, since we didn't know whether or not Sophie would be walking yet).

.....more to come!

Part 2 of our darling Sophie's story, including Gotcha Day! (Hope we aren't boring you with details!)

We left Tampa Thursday morning, May 22, and arrived in Beijing Friday evening, May 23. We flew China Eastern from L.A. on a plane filled with adoptive parents. We were met at the Beijing airport by the Harrah's representative, Henry Jia. Henry took us to our hotel, the Beijing International (recommended by John's parents who had been there in February it is quite nice and is close to the Forbidden City). The next morning, Henry and a student, Annie, met us for a trip to the Great Wall of China. We also met Greg and Alta Shearer, one of the other couples in our group. We had a nice ride through the city and countryside lots of bicycles, pushcarts, watermelon stands, even beekeepers. We could tell the difference when we left the city, but it was still very crowded and hectic in the country.

It was a long, long, LOONGGG climb up many steps to the Great Wall. The first part of the climb is past t-shirt, tablecloth, and souvenir vendors. "Remember me when you come back down. Five t-shirts one dollar." The view was spectacular, and it is amazing to think about moving all that stone up the mountain we had climbed (without the aid of steps or even a path!). Truly a wonder of the world and something we look forward to telling Sophie about, and maybe even taking her to visit someday.

After a delicious Chinese lunch with big Chinese beers, we dropped the Shearers off at the airport they were heading to Nanchang a day earlier than us. (The other two couples, the Watsons and the Bodies, had gone directly to Nanchang.)

After a brief rest at the hotel, Henry and Annie took us past the Forbidden City (it was too late in the day to tour it), through a lovely park, and around Tiananmen Square filled with people flying kites. After a Shandong province style dinner, we returned to the hotel to get organized to leave for Nanchang in the morning, and meet Sophie in the afternoon!

Sunday morning we were met at the hotel by Sha Sha, a very capable young woman who would be our facilitator and translator. She did a great job getting us through the chaotic Beijing airport and onto our flight to Nanchang. As we flew south we saw the Yangzte River and the Lushan mountains, where John's mother went to high school.

The ride from the airport to the Lakeview Hotel was interesting. Lots of rice and water buffalo, some of which were hanging out in the water, and others of which were marching down the road with all of the bicycles, pushcarts, cars, buses, and trucks. Again, although the country was crowded and hectic, you could tell when you arrived in the city of Nanchang. Nothing big and spectacular, but a large busy city.

The Lakeview Hotel is on the edge of the city only because it is on a small peninsula in a small lake. The city runs right up to its parking lot gate. The hotel is new, and is very nice by anyone's standards (four star by Chinese standards). We met the Watsons and Bodies on the way in, and rushed to our room to unpack and get organized as we arrived about 2 pm and the babies were to arrive that afternoon!

About 2:45 Sha Sha phoned us to come down to the lobby. The babies from Le Ping would be here at 3! Well, our baby was from Xin Yu, but we rushed down to see the fun (with a well stocked diaper bag, just in case! John made Amy leave some of the stuff behind, but we were still prepared for most anything).

At about 3 o'clock, Le Dan (Quinn Bodie) and Le Mei (Amanda Watson) arrived. Such excitement! Such crying! We were glad the babies from the other orphanage arrived first so we would know what to expect. After many pictures, much confusion, and time to ask the orphanage director questions, the Watson and Bodie families headed to their rooms to get acquainted. And the Cranes and the Shearers and Sha Sha sat on a couch in the lobby to wait for our turn.

And wait. And wait. And wait......

Alta and Amy compared notes to make sure we had everything we could possibly ever need in our diaper bags. Diapers. Wipes. Change of clothes. Blanket. Formula. Bottle. Water. Toys. Rice cereal. Cheerios..... (We had to be prepared Our rooms were all the way on the eighteenth floor!) And we waited. And waited. And waited.....

Sha Sha finally went up to her room, but we were unwilling to leave the lobby in case the babies arrived. We waited. And waited..... There were many other families staying in the hotel, and we met a number of the little girls and had a nice time chatting with their parents and getting a better feel for what to expect.

And we waited. And waited. And waited......

Finally, about 6 o'clock, Sha Sha came to the lobby and said that she had spoken with a Province official, and the babies were on their way. It is a 4 hour drive from Xin Yu to Nanchang, and it might be a while. So we decided we might as well go eat.

We had just sat down at a table (by the lobby with a view of the door) when some of the other parents came rushing up. "Give us your cameras! The babies are here!"

We jumped up, gathered our gear and rushed to meet the small group that had entered the lobby.

Such a bustle and confusion. We figured out which baby was which (neither looked like the photos from June 1996) and suddenly, we were holding a big baby and people were taking pictures and shooting video.

Sophie stopped crying when we gave her a bottle of water (which she held firmly with her teeth, and would not let go!), and eventually we pried a piece of apple out of her hand and gave her baby keys to hold, which remained in a death grip for days.

When things sort of settled down, we sat down with the orphanage director to find out a bit more about our babies. Sophie liked to eat rice and vegetables, no milk (we have since discovered that, yes, she is lactose intolerant). Songs are good for calming her (she often sings with Amy).There are more than 40 babies still at the orphanage. The director named her. Her nickname is CuiCui. Sophie was abandoned at the gate of the orphanage on May 22, 1996; someone loved her very much and had a hard time letting her go, and made sure she would be in a safe place that would care for her. Sophie and Lauren (the Shearer's baby Yu Xiao Yung) were accompanied on their van ride from the orphanage by Director Xu, the accountant (who held Sophie), the van driver, and his wife (who held Lauren). We saw much love and tenderness between these caregivers and the babies.

Once we were back in our room, we undressed Sophie (wearing two pairs of split pants and a disposable diaper, socks, and two shirts all clothes were well worn and rather small the orphanage kept the better clothes for the babies who are left behind) and gave her a bath. She loves looking in the mirror, and loves splashing in the bath. We fed her some rice cereal and some formula (soy) and discovered two things: Sophie is a great deal bigger than our updated measurements and many of the clothes we brought would not fit; and Sophie HATES laying on her back for dressing, undressing, diapering, undiapering, sleeping.... We finally theorized that this is because she is helpless like a stuck turtle that cannot get up. (After two weeks, she rarely fights being on her back, and now can roll over and pull herself up on furniture and our fingers.)

Then it was time to get some food in John and Amy. The buffet sounded easiest, so off we went. (Of course we took the diaper bag! A good scout is always prepared! For anything!) We shared food from our plates with our hungry baby. Yes, she does like rice and vegetables, and fruit. (And just about anything else we give her!) We met Tony Chen's sister and her husband and a friend who speaks English, and agreed to meet for dinner at 6:30 Monday.

Part 3, including paperwork and travel. (My darling husband said no one would want to read this much detail, but I know I did while I was waiting! Enjoy.)

At 7:40 Monday morning our little group of new families met Sha Sha in the hotel lobby and we pile into three taxis for the trip to the Province offices where we would adopt our babies. (These taxi rides put Toad and his Wild Ride to shame you have to have nerves of steel and good depth perception to drive or ride a bike or even walk in China!) We aren't sure if the drivers did not know where to go or were running up the mileage, but finally we stop and Sha Sha asks directions and we start walking. And we walk. And Sha Sha asks directions. And we walk some more. After a hot hike with babies (and very full diaper bags!) we arrive at the right place, and pile into a small elevator for the ride to the eighth floor. The four couples, babies, Sha Sha, the orphanage directors and accountants, a clerk, and the province official met in a large conference room. One by one the families met with the official and orphanage director. Sha Sha interpreted the questions and answers. "How old are you? Do you have other children? How much money do you make? Why do you want a Chinese baby?" Then we signed our names, fingerprinted our signatures, and paid some money, and Sophie sealed it all with her footprint. While the four families were going through the process, some other adoptive parents showed up for their interviews with the official.

Then all four families, Sha Sha, the orphanage people, and several others piled into a very very small elevator for the ride back down. The elevator was too full and some people had to get off. It was hot. One baby started crying. All the babies started crying. Finally we reached the ground floor (after a stop somewhere in- between "No room! No room!"). And another hot hike to the Notary's office (this time we had the orphanage people to show the way).

More waiting in a board room after a climb up four flights of stairs (no elevator with very heavy but well stocked diaper bag!). One by one the families met with the notary ("How old are you? How many are in your family? How much money do you make? Do you promise to keep and care for this child forever?") Then we signed some more papers and were told that our payment was to be in Chinese Yuan, not the American dollars we had brought, so Sha Sha made arrangements to bring the money later.

Then back into taxis for another wild ride back to the hotel. With a hot cranky hungry tired baby. After another visit to the buffet, Sophie took a long nap. That afternoon, the orphanage director delivered the adoption certificate (in Chinese) and Sophie's medical and vaccination records (in Chinese!).

That evening, we had a great dinner at the Jiangxi Hotel with Ms. Chen and her husband and his nephew and their friend who speaks English and his wife. We had Peking Duck and other treats. Sophie behaved well, and the Chinese were amused by her eating Cheerios and drinking formula (all from that well stocked but heavy diaper bag). After dinner we went to see Ms. Chen's parents' apartment (they are staying there while her parents visit Tony in the U.S.). It is a lovely apartment on the third floor of a university, with a balcony with a nice view of gardens and the city. At about 9 pm Sophie announced she was tired and so we went back to the hotel.

Tuesday morning we were able to take things at a more relaxed pace. Sophie is an adorable baby, with big eyes that take in everything around her. She is pretty close developmentally to where she should be at fourteen months. She quickly learned to walk with fingers or furniture to hold on to. She enjoyed her stacking cups, looking at books, putting things in and out of her purse, and other small toys we brought. Her favorite is a small stuffed bunny rattle of the bunny in Goodnight Moon (the book she enjoys every night before bed). This bunny is her pacifier, and helps comfort her when she is fighting sleep (a battle every night for over a week, and often accompanied by night terrors). (Children in orphanages are given pieces of cloth to suck on, so she rejected our traditional pacifiers, but Mr. Bun works fine. We have since purchased several spare Mr. Bun's [one for the diaper bag!], just in case......)

One of those things you think you would never talk about in public: after Sophie's first bowel movement on Tuesday morning, her temperament was greatly improved.

Tuesday morning the orphanage director returns for the donation. She comes back later in the day to deliver Sophie's Chinese passport. We give her a few token gifts and a bag of clothes that are too small for Sophie for the other girls in the orphanage. After her afternoon nap, we take Sophie on a stroller ride and her first shopping expedition to a curio shop just across from the hotel's gate. We buy a few pieces of ceramic (what Jiangxi Province is noted for ). But since there are no sidewalks and the traffic is so hustly, bustly, we forego a longer walk and head back to the hotel for a quiet evening.

Wednesday morning, after a group buffet breakfast (Sophie enjoys rice congee, fried rice, fried noodles, vegetables, and fruit, plus her formula), one member of each family goes with Sha Sha to the notary's office to the pay the fee and pick up the documents, while the others finish packing for our midday flight to Guangzhou. There is a bit of confusion at the notary because he computed the exchange rate to yuan slightly differently, and the hotel did not put a red stamp of the currency exchange receipt, but finally Sha Sha gets things sorted out, and everyone returns to the hotel.

Because we are leaving for the airport before 11:30, there is no time for lunch. So we give Sophie a snack as we wolf down some granola bars and finish shoving our stuff into our suitcases. Then we are off to the airport. After Sha Sha gets everyone checked in for their flights, she waves goodby. The American visa process in Guangzhou (old Canton) is fairly simple, and we are on our own.

We sit in a big waiting hall. Amy's well stocked (and heavy!) diaper bag provides some formula for one family and a bit of rice cereal for another. Sophie wolfs down some rice cereal and Cheerios and formula as we drink a soft drink and sneak a granola bar when she isn't looking not a very good lunch for an Amy who needs to eat as regularly as her daughter. As our 2:30 flight time approaches, Sophie gets terribly tired and upset with the whole thing. Amy walks with her, trying to calm her and maybe even get her to sleep. Doesn't work with a baby who fights sleep even in a comfortable crib. John tries to calm her and is not successful either. So we finally resort to Dimetap, and she immediately gets quiet and placid.

A short bus ride across the tarmac, and we board the plane in the rain. Tempers are very short, but we make it to our seats, and Sophie remains quiet, and is asleep soon after takeoff. John and Amy wolf down the dried mango snack provided and survive the one hour flight. Sophie wakes as we deplane and Amy sticks a bottle of formula in her mouth. What a sight we must have been: a blond woman wearing a baby sling with a little head with big eyes and a bottle poking out, waiting in the baggage claim area. We wave goodby to the other three couples who are riding the shuttle to the White Swan Hotel. We had a hotel transfer set up by our travel agent. Once we gather all of our luggage and get out of the baggage claim area, we realize our ride is nowhere to be seen. It suddenly dawns on us that our original flight had been canceled and we are arriving earlier than scheduled. The White Swan van has already left, so we gather our stuff and catch a taxi. Sophie still seems a bit druggy and dazed.

Guangzhou is interesting. It was one of the first cities in China open to Westerners, and was the headquarters for many businesses. Therefore a great deal of the architecture is late 1800's Western styles, especially on Shamian Island, where we are staying, as that was the area the Westerners were limited to for a while. The Chinese have since taken over all these buildings and have made very efficient use of space, including adding a floor/ceiling in the middle of a 14 foot ceiling space to get two stories where there once was one.

The White Swan Hotel is a fine hotel with an amazing lobby with a waterfall, fish, and song birds. We enjoyed a buffet dinner (more expensive and elegant than the Lakeview) with a wonderful eye level view of the busy river traffic. (Sophie enjoyed looking at the boats as much as her father.) Our 15th story room also had a view of the river, and it was quite fascinating: everything from little houseboats to makeshift barges to ocean going freighters.

Thursday morning we were up early to beat the rush for the medical exam for the U.S. visa. The primary purpose of the exam is to make sure that visa applicants are able-bodied and not carrying infectious diseases. Sophie laid on her back to be measured and have her heart listened too, and when it was time to have her throat looked at, did not say her favorite word, which would have been quite appropriate for a change ("waaaaahh!"). She was relaxing and getting used to us.

A bit of time to rest and eat an early lunch filled rolls from the Deli Shop before we head to the U.S. Consulate for the Visa interview at noon. Amy stayed up late the night before completing the forms, so the process was pretty quick and easy. We hand them the forms, say yes, we are the people listed there at the address given. A few kind words from the official, a picture, and we're done (visa to be picked up Friday afternoon).

A bit of shopping a chop for Sophie and traditional Chinese outfits in sizes to last several years and lucky tiger shoes. Back to the hotel for a nap, while John heads for a department store in search of a hope chest for Sophie. No luck with the chest, but he picks up some other interesting items. After dinner that night (Italian! Not bad) we visit the hotel book store, and of course spend lots of money.

Friday morning, a stroll off Shamian Island to a stamp store quite an adventure on busy crowded streets with a baby in a stroller and a walk around Shamian Island afterwards. We passed several elementary schools filled with colorful art and decorations on the walls, just like American schools, and plenty of happy girls as well as boys in the classrooms and playgrounds.

Friday afternoon we pack and John picks up the visa and says goodby to the Watsons and Shaerers and Bodies. Then we are off to the airport for our flight to Beijing. We manage to find our flight one of those huge airplanes with an upstairs. We are fortunate to have an empty seat next to us, so we put up the arm rests and Amy moves over one seat and Sophie actually finally falls asleep on the seat between us (after a battle again).

The van to the Movenpick Hotel is delayed or confused in coming, but we get there eventually. We have a quiet, short night in this nice European hotel near the airport. During breakfast John's cousin Roy McCall calls. He apologizes for not showing us around Beijing, but our time there was too short and his schedule was full. We leave for the airport at 9 am and we are on our way home.

Saturday, we fly China Eastern Business class back to L.A., and get to wait in the Business Class Lounge. Sophie is so proud of her new skill at walking (still holding on to fingers). She takes a bit of a nap before our 10:30 boarding. Then we are off, on a flight filled with children going home to the U.S. We have a bit of a surprise when everyone and all their stuff has to get off the plane at Shanghai to go through Immigration. But eventually we are settled on board again and on our way. Sophie sleeps a good amount of the way (fighting sleep less and less each time, thanks in a large part to Mr. Bun). She also flirts with other passengers (she likes to play "up periscope!") and enjoys showing off her walking ability..

We get to L.A. and go through the New Immigrants line (along with all the other adoptive families). It seems like a bit of a wait, but eventually our name is called, and Sophie's passport has a stamp that will serve as her temporary green card (she is eligible for employment if anyone has a job appropriate for a toddler).

Sophie and Amy survive their first public restroom diaper change, and the flights to Dallas and then home are uneventful.

We are greeted at the Tampa airport about 10:30 Saturday night (May 31) by many friends, and are welcomed home by Sophocles (Baby Cat), who doesn't seem to concerned about the new baby/pet we brought home. Sophie was terrified of the furry four legged monster who walks and talks, but is slowly getting used to him, and has even touched him a few times.

Sophie continues to be a delightful and cheerful little girl, except when she is hungry or tired. She is still adjusting to this time zone (12 hours different), and once she does we hope her nap and meal times are more predictable. We visited the pediatrician Monday, and thanks to a very painful episode trying to get lots of blood for lots of tests from very small veins, we know she is healthy. The doctor feels she is on target developmentally. Her height is 31 inches, which is the 100th percentile for her age. She weighs 21 pounds 1 ounce, which is the 30th percentile. So you can see we have a tall, skinny baby.

Sophie enjoyed her first church worship service 6/8, and particularly enjoyed the music and singing. Amy has quit her job at the Library to be our child's full time librarian and mom.

We are very exhausted but happy. Sophie is a joy, and we look forward to when each of you can meet her. Until then, thanks for your love and support and prayers, and congratulations on reading through this long-winded account. So many people asked for details, and this seemed the easiest way to share them.

I will post travel tips and suggestions when I get a chance (probably later this week).

Much love, Amy, John, and Sophie Crane

John and Amy Crane, Tampa, FL

referral 4/17 for Yu Xiao Cui (Sophie XiaoCui Crane)
born 3/17/96, Xin Yu city orphange
docs to China 8/16/96 Harrah Family Services
travel: May 22
Gotcha day: May 25 in Nanchang
Return to US: May 31! (late, tired, and happy)

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