Tim, Karen, Scott and Kelsey Steele
Part 1: The "Big Bird" Goes to China
We got back from China on August 8 with our 10-month old Kelsey!!! Needless to say, life has been hectic, but we would like to post how the trip went. We left Atlanta on Friday July 25 and after being on three different airlines (Delta to L.A., Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and China Eastern to Nanjing), with 5 hour stays at the airports in between flights, we arrived in Jiangsu Province. It took 30 hours total and we were physically exhausted and badly needing showers by the time we got checked in at the hotel in Nanjing. Our China Travel Service's translator, "Keven" Huang, got us checked in and after a very brief period of rest we headed out for supper and our first taste of real Chinese food. The food was great, but the evening was a blur because of our fatigue.
The next morning we drove 2 hours to the city of Yangzhou where the orphanage was located. O.K., everybody mentions it, but I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the driving. It was such a free-for-all that I had to catch some of it on tape or my friends would never believe it! It's amazing to me the contrast between driving in the States compared to China. It's amazing that in the U.S. we have so much freedom, yet there are very strict rules of the road. Yet in China, where people are pretty strictly controlled (relative to what I'm used to) there's anarchy on the roads (from my Western perspective)! Interestingly, we saw only one accident and two tickets being given out our entire stay in China so everybody seems to know the "traffic rules". SAFETY ALERT: We learned quickly that pedestrians have no right-of-way, so be careful! The scariest part of it all was that we were actually getting used to the driving by the time we left China.
We were to stay at an extremely nice, brand new 3 star hotel. During the hotel check-in, we were told to hurry up to our rooms as the BABIES (we traveled with another family) would arrive in 20 MINUTES!!!! That got the old hearts thumping! 5 minutes later, while still in the hotel lobby, here come the babies being held by the Yangzhou Social Welfare Services (i.e. orphanage) director (Mr. Wei Hao Ying) and an orphanage caretaker!!! The babies were dropped into our wives' arms and all of a sudden the rest of the universe disappeared as we focused solely on our new daughters. We were captivated by them and could hardly believe that after two years of waiting we finally had our daughters! Our 6 year old son Scott, who we were so concerned how he would take to his new sister, couldn't get close enough to Kelsey. He started being a great big-brother to his new sister from the first nanosecond they met. I alternately caught the action on videotape and held Kelsey myself. Karen summed it up nicely as she was holding Kelsey. She looked up at me and said, "Congratulations Dad, it's a girl!" We looked up to see the Hotel front desk staff smiling at our obvious enjoyment. We also noticed that Mr. Wei and the caretaker had left to leave us alone with the babies. This was a nice gesture, but one minor detail remained.... how do we take care of the tots? We didn't know any of their eating or sleeping habits. Maybe Mr. Wei figured that since both couples had a child already we'd figure it out. We did....... eventually.
We took Kelsey up to the hotel room to bathe and change her. She seemed to be in good shape. We knew before we got her that she was small for her age (10th percentile for weight, length and head circumference), but she was obviously well cared for when we looked her over. She had a double chin and enough meat on her bones to tell us that she had been well fed (we found out a couple days later that her meals consisted entirely of formula every 4 hours). With the exception of a slight rash on her forehead (most likely heat rash) and a few small skin boils in the diaper region (which cleared up nicely with a little antibiotic ointment) she seemed to be in very good shape. She had (and still has) large "Mongolian spots" (i.e. skin pigmentation) on her buttocks and back. She cried intensely during the bath (which she has since come to absolutely love) so I think we set the world speed record for baby bath time! We then proceeded to make the next important discovery... she would only drink WARM formula. Room temperature formula would be spit out of her mouth and all over her outfit and us. Apparently warm formula was all she knew and it was DEFINITELY all she would accept! Though it posed a challenge at times (what is the Chinese word for Thermos?), we were always able to locate warm water to make up bottles. Little Kelsey was the perfect baby the first 24 hours... no muss, no fuss... she ate well, slept the night, and didn't cry at all. Little did we know that the next day the other shoe would drop.....
Part 2: The Royal Treatment
The second day with Kelsey was somewhat different (vast understatement) from that first peaceful day we had with our angel baby. In fact, we were wondering if somebody had secretly replaced Kelsey with an evil twin! She was fussy and at times inconsolable. Nothing we seemed to do could make her happy. Part of it may have been some separation anxiety, being in an unfamiliar environment with people she probably thought were the babysitters yesterday but were still here today. Some of it surely was the fact that she was teething. A dose of children's tylenol helped somewhat, but she was just plain miserable and didn't mind letting us know how she felt. Fortunately, we were not first-time parents (not diss'ing 1st time parents, I just remember how we were when we had Scott) and, though a little frazzled, kept it all in perspective. That night no one really got much sleep as Kelsey was up several times. The "not much sleep" theme runs through this entire trip!
The next day Kelsey had mellowed out and was back to "happy camper" status. We were excited also because we had learned that we were getting the chance to tour the orphanage and have dinner with the orphanage director and some of his staff! This was totally unexpected as we had heard this rarely happens. Keven, our translator, had us driven to the orphanage where we met with Mr. Wei and some of his staff. We sat in their very nice air conditioned, office area and Mr. Wei told the history of the children and their care. It seems Kelsey was abandoned at the hospital within a day of her birth. Apparently, her birth mother checked into the hospital under an assumed name and when she left there was no way to find her. How difficult that must have been. I can't even imagine her grief at having to leave behind her new baby. We got to ask about the eating, sleeping, etc. habits of the girls. It was very obvious to us that Mr. Wei and his staff care greatly for the children and go to great lengths to see that their needs are met. We expressed our gratitude to them for taking such fine care of the children. We talked, we laughed and we came to a better understanding of what it takes to run an institution that cares for over 100 children as well as elderly people on somewhat limited resources. A tour of the outside facilities followed (we weren't allowed to actually see the other children) and pictures and videotape were allowed. Buildings were being built and others renovated to improve the conditions there. Some of the elderly tenants were outside on the grounds enjoying the gardens and they greeted us warmly.
Later that night, Mr. Wei and several staff members took us out to dinner and treated us to a great time. He personally served us food and promised that he would have a "chop" (personalized stamp) made for the two couples' older children (which he fulfilled). My son slept through the whole meal since he was so fatigued by the day's events and at one point Mr. Wei, who was sitting next to my son, allowed Scott to put his feet up on him to make him more comfortable. We had a great time conversing through our translator and finding more about the history of the orphanage and the people who worked there. Apparently, over 500 children have been adopted through the orphanage. We encouraged them to continue their good work as there are many couples around the world who would love to provide good, loving homes for their children. And to this day we don't know why, but we were told that we were the first couples to be treated in this royal way by them. We were extremely grateful to have spent the time with the very people who raised Kelsey the first 10 months of her life.
The rest of the time in Yangzhou was spent getting to know our daughters and seeing some of the sights. We spent a morning touring West Slender Lake Park, which is a beautiful park with lots of water, pagodas, trees, etc. It was very hot that day (we thought Georgia gets hot!), but we enjoyed the sights. We also got to see a 2500 year old Buddhist temple, a jade factory where we saw some extremely gifted artists working on their wares and a lacquerware factory. Yangzhou is noted for its jade and lacquerware. In fact, some of the lacquerware (dark wood with inset oyster shell) that you see at the White Swan Hotel might have come from the Yangzhou area.
On August 2, we set off to fly from Yangzhou to Guangzhou and to the fabled White Swan Hotel. Mr. Wei and Kelsey's primary caretaker met us at the hotel in Yangzhou to see us off and wish us well. At the airport, we heard about the typhoon that was battering Hong Kong.....
Part 3: Finalizing the adoption
We left off the story just as typhoon (i.e. hurricane) Victor was battering Hong Kong. It was what they call a signal 9 storm and the system only goes up to signal 10. It was supposedly the strongest storm to hit Hong Kong in 14 years. We were stranded for 6 hours at the airport in Jiangsu Province because the plane from Guangzhou couldn't leave the city to pick us up due to the typhoon . When we finally arrived in Guangzhou the ever-so-faithful White Swan crew (3 of them) were waiting patiently for us. We should have arrived at 3:00 pm, but got there at 9:30 pm. With smiles on their faces they got us through all the rain and drove us to the White Swan. We checked in, requested our cribs, and crashed (no airport pun intended) after a VERY long and trying day at the airport.
The next day we were able to better appreciate the White Swan. As many have said, it is a very nice place. Our room's view was of the river with a myriad of boats traveling on it. My son loved the fish and the waterfall area on the lobby level. He also swam in the two hotel pools every day that we were there. The jade and lacquerware furniture really added a touch of class. For food, we used the complimentary breakfast more as a brunch which held us through to dinner. For dinner we ate at the hotel usually, although once we ventured out to Lucy's cafe which serves Western-style food and is within easy walking distance of the hotel. We thought about, but didn't make it to, the Hard Rock Cafe. Diapers and formula are available at the hotel, as are souvenirs (although maybe not at the best price you might be able to get at other shops) and snacks. Meals can be charged to your room and it can all be paid for by credit card if so desired.
As an aside, for 80 RMB per hour (about $10 U.S. dollars) you can use the computer at the Business Center to send e-mail messages. It's a pretty cheap way to send out a bunch of messages. Be sure to bring the e-mail addresses with you. Also, umbrella strollers can be rented for about $1.00 U.S. dollar/day.
One day we got brave and took a cab to a nearby department store. This was made easy by having the concierge write out in Chinese where we wanted to go on a White Swan business card. We showed the card to a cab driver to get to the store and then the "White Swan" side of the business card to get back. The only problem we had was in trying to get a cab from the store back to the hotel. It seems there were a number of cab drivers who didn't want to pick us up. Even two cabs that were stopped by the store waved us off even as they tried to get other riders to use their cab. Oh well, such is life. A few moments later, we were picked up by a cab driver that we tipped heavily just for picking us foreigners up!
Monday, August 4 was our medical. We got there early and were some of the first people in line. Good thing, as many families soon followed to get their medicals. The clinic opened up a 8:00 am, but allowed people into the building from about 7:45 am. When the clinic personnel saw us with babies we were immediately ushered into the appropriate areas for paperwork and examination. Apparently, they trusted our daughter's immunization records because all that they received was an oral polio vaccine. We were VERY relieved that no shots were required. After a relatively brief check on weight, overall health (heart, lungs), ears/nose/throat we were through. The only thing that was flagged with Kelsey was a left ear infection. The "E.N.T." person asked me if we had any antibiotics (we did thanks to the trusty Texas Medical Kit) and sent us home telling us to check with the physician at the White Swan if any problems cropped up. We immediately started her on the Cephalexin, the broad-spectrum antibiotic, and it started to clear up her ear. We were told we could pick up the required sealed medical records first thing the next morning. PLEASE NOTE: We were told by our adoption agency that we didn't need passport pictures of Kelsey for the medical exam. We were told wrong. We needed the pictures, but fortunately they had the capability to take them at the clinic. The pictures were good enough for the medical paperwork, but not really good enough for the required passport pictures needed by the U.S. Consulate. My advice: Get your passport photos done as soon as possible before your medical check-up to avoid needless delay. The passport photo place is very close to the White Swan. Also, let me say at this point that when we got to Guangzhou we didn't have anyone from the agency or a translator there to guide us around. We were prepped for this in advance by our agency. With a little trepidation we ventured out to do all the official business that needed to be taken care of. We found that all went very smoothly and that a representative is nice to have with you, but not absolutely necessary. We found that most groups we talked to at the White Swan did have a representative/translator available.
The U.S. Consulate visit was nothing exceptional. In fact, we were not asked to see our 3 years of tax returns at all (you still should bring them though) or asked any questions at all. Our interviewer did ask our son if he liked being a big brother. He answered that he did. We couldn't pick up Kelsey's visa until the next day. But it was ready on time when we came back to pick it up. All was now taken care of except flying back to the States. But how would Kelsey do on the 14 hour flight? Angelic baby or evil twin?
We were to take a train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong to pick up our flight to L.A., but we almost missed the train...............
Part 4: God Bless America!
Since we needed to pick up the train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, we took the White Swan shuttle bus to the train station. The shuttle got us to the station 40 minutes before the scheduled departure of the train. No problem - or so we thought..... It seemed to take forever to find which terminal we departed from since almost no one spoke English. Finally, one of the customs (?) guards was found who spoke English and so we started to process our paperwork to get onto the train. Passports needed to be looked at, then the departure cards, then Kelsey's visa information, then airline tickets for her.......... The whole process took so long that we only had 5 minutes to drag our luggage into the train before it chugged away. Catastrophe narrowly averted! The train was actually quite nice and the 100 minute trip was rather enjoyable.
On the train ride it gave me time to think about the strides that Kelsey had made to this point. She seems to have attached/bonded with us very well. Lots of eye contact, happy baby most of the time, easy to make giggle, seems secure and at-ease with us, etc. Pretty amazing to me considering she had spent her whole life in the same environment and with the same people. Developmentally, she was behind for a 10 month old, although we were pretty much anticipating this. She couldn't crawl when we first got her, but after almost two weeks it's hard to catch her. She had trouble sitting up for any significant length of time, but now is doing very well at that. She didn't have much leg strength to stand up (supported), but now is up on her legs all the time. She has two front, bottom teeth that weren't there except as little points when we got her. I'm confident that she will catch-up in many ways once we really work with her.
We were met in Hong Kong by two representatives of our adoption agency. Emily and Wilson live in Hong Kong and routinely meet couples from Hope for Children (Atlanta) as they pass through. It was rainy that day, but we were fed and given a brief tour of Hong Kong and taken to the airport. At that point, it was nice to see Hong Kong, but we wanted no other thing than to get back home!
Kelsey had a runny nose and so we gave her a small dose of benedryl to dry her up before the flight. We hoped it might unclog her ears enough to allow them to clear during the time in the air. The benedryl had the added side benefit of making her drowsy. With bulkhead seating (be sure to request this for yourself from your airline as it was extremely nice to have) and a bassinet, Kelsey slept almost 10 hours of the 14 hour flight. It would have been the perfect flight if it weren't for the unfortunate incident where she barfed about 8 oz. of formula all over my clothes and the airplane aisle (fortunately no passengers). The flight on Cathay Pacific was comfortable and we were well taken care of by the attendants. Anything we needed was quickly gotten for us - warm water for bottles, kleenex, de-barfing the aisle, etc.
We landed in L.A. in the early evening hours and our agency had arranged for us to stay at the Sheraton Gateway near the L.A. airport before our flight the next day across the country to Atlanta. While we dearly wanted to get back home, it was nice to have a break from airplanes and get a decent night's rest before the last leg of the journey. Through it all our 6 year old son Scott did phenomenally well and we are glad we took him along. He was old enough to know what was going on and it was good to have him in on the whole process to help his acceptance of Kelsey as his sister. He's got an experience that will stick with him for his entire life. Of course, there are many considerations in taking a child with you, but for us it was well worth the added expense, luggage, hassle, etc.
Arriving at the Atlanta airport, we were greeted by a couple dozen well-wishers with balloons and camcorders and banners. We were waxed from the last two weeks of travel, but elated to be back home and with our new daughter in tow! China was a very interesting place, but as Dorothy once put it, "There's no place like home". Now we simply had the rest of Kelsey's life to look forward to. After a two year adoption process, it's like the realization that after the wedding is over there's a marriage to look forward to. God has been very good to us in every way.
Here's hoping for quick referrals and travel approval for all!!!!!
Tim, Karen, Scott and Kelsey Steele
Agency: Hope for Children (Atlanta)
INS approval: 5/96
Gotcha Day: 7/28/97
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