John Eichenlaub & Robin Ruth
When Robin and I married we knew we wanted to have children, but as it turns out that was not possible for us through biological means. We struggled through a year of expensive fertility treatments and finally accepted that that was not to be our destiny. In September 1995 we began looking into adoption of an infant. We were quickly discouraged by local government (county). Though we were open to numerous options we were told we would have to wait as much as eight years to adopt an infant, particularly a white infant. But we explained that was not an issue for us. Both of us are veterans of the New York theatre culture, had lived overseas, had many friends of various ‘races', I was an university adjunct faculty member teaching diversity and social policy....but then the anvil dropped. It might not be an issue for us, but it was for the people running the county Children's Services. They were patently unwilling to even consider a interracial or transracial placement. Turn about is fair play? We were being discriminated against on the basis of the color of our skin, not the content of our character. Of course, I was enraged. I was ready to go to state and Federal court. But as Robin pointed out, that would not bring a child into our home any sooner and quite possibly, considerably later. There had to be an alternative.
Just about the same time I introduced Robin to the Internet. I was able to help her get started signing on and some elementary WWW navigation, then I had to go to New York City for a week. While I was gone Robin used her determination to solve the dilemma -- where could we adopt? So she surpressed her intimidation by the Internet and set about finding out. One of the first sites she found was Families with Children from China (http://www.fwcc.org). By the time I got home from NYC the die had been cast and we began investigating international adoption in November 1995 and quickly decided we would pursue an adoption in China.
Our decision to seek adoption in China was in many ways very pragmatic. At that time, the Chinese government was still accepting individual petitions, which would save us thousands in agency fees. Also, at that time, adoptions were being completed with 4-6 months from the dossier submission date. We both have traveled overseas. I had spent over a year and a half in Asia in the late 60's (guess where) during which time I had had the opportunity to spend at least a couple of weeks in Japan (Kyoto and Kobe), Taiwan (Taipei), the Phillipines (Manila, Baggio, Subic Bay), Burma (Rangoon), Laos (Vientiane), Thailand (Bangkok), Hong Kong and some other more out of the way places. I had come away with a deep affection for the cultures and a profound respect for the people. In short, we could do most the research and work ourselves, save a lot of money, get it on track and moving in just a couple of months. Then the ‘reorganization' began in early 1996. It changed everything, but we were commited to this daughter of ours, even if we didn't know who she was, if she had even been born, or when we might see her.
What followed was months of paperwork, documenting every aspect of our lives and undergoing a two month homestudy. In April we located an agency that works on a fee for services basis, strictly ‘for profit' (I have a lingering distrust about not-for-profit organizations that stems for a seedy side of my past as a fundraiser and political advisor). Altruism makes me nervous, capitalism I understand and know how to handle. Dave and Cindy from Americans Adopting Orphans (AAO) are forthright and professional, efficient and effective, which just goes to show you get what you pay for. Finally in July 1996 our application to the Chinese government (the dreaded dossier) was forwarded to China. It arrived in China on August 1 and in the Chinese offices on August 8, 1996, then the wait began. This was the hardest part, partially because it began just as the reorganization was completing and no one knew, with any certainity, what the outcomes would be.
Since early in the process we have been quiet, but constant members of APC (for the uninitated, a-parents-china listserv, founded by Richard Smith, currently administered by Bill McLean). Had it not been for the community, sorrow, joy, bickering, support, nonsense, information and reassurance of referrals and travel dates I am not at all sure we would have lasted the 33 weeks we waited for our referral. But then it came.
Finally, on March 24, 1997 we received word we had been 'referred' a daughter, Ji Xiaole. (Though originally it was translated Jie Xiao Le). On March 25th THE Fedex arrived!! Amid the excitement and confusion I managed to get to Kinkos and make many, many color copies of the only physical proof we had, our referral picture. The next step, the wait for a travel date ended just as we were advised by Dave and Cindy, five weeks almost to the day. We were to be in Guangzhou, China, ready to begin the in-country paperwork on May 19th. On May 16th we left our home in Ohio and arrived in Hong Kong on the evening of May 17th (21 hours of travel). While that sounds simple it was far from that, both of us are by nature procrastinators, so the five weeks were spent madly painting, collecting and assembling furniture, baby proofing the house, gathering together our cash, passports, visas, travel arrangements (we used Delight Travel to get to Hong Kong, booked our own flights to Guangzhou and left the remainder up to arrangements AAO had made through Lotus Travel).
We didn't even start to pack until the evening before we were to leave and in fact finished packing at 5 am and left for the airport at 6:30 am. We flew out of Canton-Akron Regional Airport to Chicago on a four engine turboprop passenger commuter. Given that I am 6'6" tall you can only imagine the seating, I really didn't need a seat belt, I was securely wedged right into the seat. From Chicago to Los Angeles we took a DC-10, changed planes in less than an hour and boarded 747 for the hop to Hong Kong.
The first night in Asia we stayed the night at the Kimberly Hotel in Kowloon. Just getting to the hotel was weird. When we came out of the airport we had the option of 1) taking a bus, 2) take a taxi, 3) take a hired car from the hotel. After 21 hours spent getting there we opted for the hotel car, which cost $30 US. We should have taken the taxi, just as effective, and only $5. [A word to the wise !]
Early the next morning we met the first other person in our travel group, Tom Sproger, who had traveled alone to pick up his and his wife's daughter and was also staying at the Kimberly. We had a pleasant breakfast together and discussed whether we wanted to go sightseeing together, but that didn't work out. What did evolve was that we would be taking the same flight to Guangzhou in the early evening. Tom also knew that two or three other families from our group would be on the flight, too. We had a little time on Sunday the 18th to look around Hong Kong, but we did visit Victoria Peak and took some photos of the Hong Kong/Kowloon skyline. In the afternoon we headed out to the airport where we met Tom and, for the first time, Debra, Melissa and John, Don and Suzy, Matt and Susie, and Theresa.
We were met at the Guangzhou airport by Dr. Chen, our facilitator, and Amy, an interpreter. After a quick organization of the families arriving we were taken to the White Swan hotel. There we checked in and went to our rooms. Robin and I later had dinner in the Riverside Cafe before retiring for the evening. The food at the White Swan is good, though not exceptional, and very reasonably priced.
Then the whirlwind began....
On the morning of the 19th, after an early breakfast with five of the families, we were met by Martin Qin, guide/interpreter, who took us all to begin the first step, notarization by the Guangdong Provincial authorities. We got off somewhat later than had been planned. We were taken by bus to a small upstairs office in another part of Guangzhou. The office was plain and unassuming in a building so unremarkable that those of us accustomed to the austentation of US government buildings would never have found it. We answered questions about ourselves and promised to never abandon, sell, or forsake our daughter. Everyone had their pictures taken during their interview and most of us had a picture taken showing the red ink on our index fingers from the fingerprint affixed to our documentation. We were approved, our paperwork stamped, and finished by noon.
We were taken to a celebration lunch, then in the afternoon we flew to Zhangjiang, about 235 miles (380 km) southwest of Guangzhou, where we were met at the airport by our next guide, Nikko. We were bused to the Ying Hai (Silver Sea) Hotel. That evening Nikko took us to the Canton Bay Restaurant, which will always be known as the 'mystery seafood' dinner. The food was Cantonese seafood and had no names. We discovered one of the first unusual aspects of the trip, our guides would never sit nor eat with us. It was never clear exactly why this was so, but it was consistent throughout the entire trip.
The next day, the 20th, after breakfast and some time taken by several families to convert some travelers checks at a local branch of the Bank of China, we took a 2-1/2 hour bus ride to Maoming, north-northeast of Zhangjiang. By now the tension and excitement was palpable. When we first arrived we were taken to a private dining room in the Maoming Building where we were to have lunch, then meet and be united with the babies. But within minutes, Dr. Chen came in and asked "Want see babies now?". Seven families bolted for the door. We were led to a conference room where all seven infant girls were waiting. Each child was in the arms of a foster parent who had cared for her for the last month or more. The children were given to us in a scene full of tears, chaos, excitement, and joy. Dr. Chen would take each baby, say her name in Chinese and look expectantly for someone to claim her. The last name he said was "Ji Xiaole". We were in love instantly, it was the end of 19 months of patient work and the beginning of life with a cherished daughter. We took the babies to the dining room reserved for us and tried to feed them for the first time. Some ate, others were too traumatized, including Meredith. One by one each family returned to the conference room to complete more paperwork, receive our daughters' birth certificates, abandonment certificates, and passports, and pay the orphanage donation and passport fee. Ms. Peng, the director of the City of Huazhou Children's Welfare Institute sat with several of the parents to answer questions through our guide/interpreter, Nikko. Robin did that while I roamed the room photographing everyone. Later she told me she should have written down what she wanted to know, because under the emotional impact of the moment she just couldn't focus on anyone or anything except Meredith. [Another good strategy hint :-)]
We had the opportunity to 'driveby' the orphanage, but were not allowed inside (no foreigner has been allowed in orphanages since late in '95). We took photos of the outside of the orphange and managed to collect a soil sample to take home. (A gift for Meredith someday). The orphanage is located near the center of Huazhou and is located off a courtyard behind a nightclub (the sign said Night Clud, the Chinese are struggling with using the Roman alphabet in some places). Then there followed a 3 hour bus trip back to Zhangjiang and the Silver Sea, where we spent our first night with our daughter. She was confused and frightened. We were strange sounding and smelling aliens. The night was fitful and stressful for all of us. Yet in spite of her obvious upset she did finally eat some rice cereal and formula.
Late the next morning, Wednesday, we flew back to Guangzhou, arriving just in time to have photos taken (needed for the US Visa and immigration papers) and to have the girls examined by Chinese doctors. The babies were given a superficial examination, weighed and measured. All went well and the next to last paperwork step was complete. Martin took some of us to the Victoria Restaurant in Guangzhou and introduced us to traditional Cantonese cuisine as it is served in Guangzhou. It is worth mentioning that the food at the Victoria was very different than the food we had had at the Canton Bay Restaurant in Zhangjiang, it was less alien in some ways or we were becoming accustomed to the food.
On Thursday morning, we all went to the US Consulate for the last step, an interview with a Consulate official, pay for the US visa, and sign more papers. Our guide (now friend) took us to the Six Banyan Buddist Temple for a blessing and a tour of the temple complex, then to a restaurant known for its exquisite dim sum. At the restaurant we encountered a tourist group from Canada. They were very kind and supportive of why we had come to China. After lunch we returned to the White Swan Hotel. Dinner that evening was at the Victoria Restaurant again, where Martin continued our introduction to Cantonese cuisine. We toasted our hosts, our daughters, and each other with rice wine, ate well and returned to the White Swan Hotel.
Friday morning was the first day we didn't have to 'be somewhere', so it was given over to a shopping tour for jade, fabric, clothing, memoribilia. We were guided by a young woman named Amy, who was an English professor at a provincial university. Friday evening Dr. Chen delivered our visas and immigration packets to us. That evening all seven families gathered at the end of the 4th floor hallway in the hotel for a birthday party, six of the seven girls had turned one or would be turning one within days.
By now the girls were adjusting somewhat, but as one should expect, to varying degrees. Three of the families were to leave the next morning for the US, including us. The other four families were to remain in China for another four days, three in Guangzhou and one family, the Humphries, would be traveling to Shanghai before returning to the US.
Saturday morning we began the trek back. We left the hotel a 7:00 am local time (7:00 pm Friday, EDT). We flew from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, changed planes, flew from Hong Kong to San Francisco, where we brought our daughter through immigration for the first time and changed planes. We, then, flew to Chicago, where we were met by John's Aunt Betsy and Cousin Ned, and Robin's sister, Laurie. We had a 2-1/2 hour layover so Meredith's first encounter with her new extended family had representatives from both sides. We changed planes again, flew to Akron, OH -- home. We arrived at 11:00 pm after nearly 28 hours of travel, exhausted, jet-lagged, and met by balloons and some of our friends, Sally Dellman and her son, and Tom Fry, a close personal friend, who had cared for our car while we were gone.
Looking back -- the paperwork, the waiting, and the travel, trip may be the easy part. Now comes the real work of raising a daughter in our world, with all its glitter, opportunity, danger, unpredictability, but most of all promise.
John L. Eichenlaub, Jr., proud father and Robin L. Ruth, proud mother
of Meredith Grace Xiaole Eichenlaub
John Eichenlaub & Robin Ruth
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