Barbara and I returned from China with Jenna Lin, the former Miss Tai YuZhen, on 2/28/97. For those of you wanting to hear a positive story that included a flawless trip, healthy babies and an incredible adoption agency, this is for you. I give all the credit for our wonderfully positive experience to our agency, Cascade International Children's Services. Their heart is for the children not the business of adoption. The Director of Cascade, Marie Blieler, created the agency because of her heart for the children. With careful consideration, Marie selected all participants of the agency with that in mind. On staff is a lady, Nicolle LaFleur, who went to college in Beijing not that long ago, is an American and is married to a Chinese man. She, therefore, has relatives in Beijing that can act as the eyes and ears of the agency when an actual staff member is not in China.
FOR THOSE OF YOU MAKING AN AGENCY SELECTION I SUGGEST THAT THIS SELECTION DECISION IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE YOU WILL MAKE AFTER YOU DECIDE TO ADOPT.
Let me say first that we have been on the List since September '96. Having read all the posts, we prepared for the worst...weather, food, bathrooms, hotels, baby health, airline and baggage trouble, etc. I can assure you we are not naïve people that travel with rose colored glasses. We are experienced travelers. Barbara, a former flight attendant for 18 years, and I with 1,000,000+ frequent flyer miles on a single airline.
Our itinerary included Beijing, Nanjing and Guangzhou. There were 10 adoptive parents in our group. Seven traveled from Oregon via LA and Seoul to Beijing, One from Texas connecting in LA with the Oregon group, one from Oregon that traveled directly to Nanjing and we, via different Airline (more later), from Florida through LA and Seoul to Beijing.
We arrived in China on February 14, 1997. The group of 9 adoptive parents toured in Beijing then flew to Nanjing on the 16th to meet the final couple and get the babies on the 17th. There was a total of 23 people in our entourage.
There were no late flights, baggage problems, missed connections, extra fares, bad hotels, gouging by the Chinese, rude people, questionable orphanage personnel or misinformation from our agency. I give the entire credit to Cascade. Nicole arranged the tours, translated, checked us into hotels, bought airport tax coupons, checked us into flights, guided us through airports, ordered meals when we went out and generally introduced us to the Chinese culture. Chinese New Year was coming to an end when we arrived so we partook of some traditional meals and later in Nanjing, when Spring Lantern Festival was going on so she took us to experience it.
Our hotels in Beijing and Nanjing, though only rated 4 star, were far nicer in service and room size than the 5 star rated White Swan in Guangzhou. The Nanjing and Guangzhou hotels had cribs in the rooms when we arrived. All of our hotels and airline flights in China were prearranged by Cascade and prepaid before we left the States as was the tour guides that accompanied us everywhere and the modern, clean bus and driver in each city. The total cost for hotels for 14 days, breakfast each day, airfare from Beijing to Nanjing to Guangzhou to Hong Kong, tours and tour guides, buses and drivers was $2300. That is less than $165/day and included 3 days touring in Beijing plus all the invaluable services provided by Nicole.
None of the Chinese airports we were in had men sporting machine guns in February 1997.
Our children came from 2 orphanages near Nanjing. Eight from 1 and two from another. On the appointed day at the appointed time the first 2 children arrived. Shortly thereafter the other 8 arrived. All the children were healthy, clean, alert with no fear of being undressed or anything else for that matter. The bonding process that occurred over the 11 days before we left China was terrific. In each hotel we all stayed on 1 floor. It was like a college dormitory. We left the doors open and visited at will. One of the adoptive parents brought her 2 sisters and parents. The parents became adoptive Grandparents to all of us. They were a Godsend to every adoptive parent at some point in the trip. Let me say that this is not a trip that you want to undertake alone. All of the people in our group helped one another but there is a time everyday that you are alone, either in your room or on the way to or in an airport that you need help. Do yourself a favor. Take a spouse, friend or other relative to help you. As one parent's sister who came along to help said, "Sometimes you need a camel or some other beast of burden on a trip like this".
The processing of paperwork in Nanjing was as smooth as the trip. We had appointments at each office and everything went as planned. No gouging or extra fees. The same thing in Guangzhou. Nicole guided us through the process with ease. She is the best! I believe with all my heart that an American, fluent in Chinese, is important. Nicole knew the culture and could be an unknowing American when necessary and a person fluent in Chinese and the Chinese ways when making arrangements and smoothing the flow of the trip.
The night before we were to meet do anything official or catch flights, Nicole had a meeting in her room to go over the details. This allowed her and us to be assured that we were on the same page and would bring the appropriate documentation, money, etc. If we were doing something that could be paid for as a group, she collected the money and would pay for the group utilizing her fluency in Chinese to smooth the way. For example, airport tax coupons, visa photographs, etc. This saved time and confusion the next day. If we were to go on a tour, she would leave a detailed note under each door with all the information needed. If there was an especially good way to do something she would suggest it and implement it if the group agreed. For example, when you get your visa letter for the baby it is attached to another document. If it becomes detached it is invalid. She suggested we buy a clear plastic envelope that zips closed to carry the paperwork. We agreed and she purchased 10 of them at a department store during one of our shopping trips and gave them to us for the .65 each she paid.
We were in enormous crowds at the Lantern Festival and large crowds at the parks and tourist sites we visited. We met only friendly people that were curious and wanted to help us. They were concerned that the babies were warm and covered and, because of the culture, had no qualms about pulling on the babies clothes so that no skin was showing. We quickly adjusted to their expectations and made sure the babies were covered and avoided everything but the smiles and curiosity.
Because of the crowds that quickly grow where ever you go and the dirty streets and the hassle of carrying it, we would not recommend a stroller. The child is out there in front of you and is surrounded before you can get to her. It seems to be quite windy all the time and the streets are dusty and dirty. You will find that you and your clothes will smell like China before you leave. Your shoes definitely pick up the odor first. I just would not want a baby down there next to the street dirt and auto/bus fumes and noise.
As you can probably see, this was a dream trip. The experience of a lifetime. One that we will remember from the hundreds of photos and 8 hours of video we have and we will be able to share with our daughter fond memories of the "Gotcha" trip.
With the right agency and the right attitude you can come back in positive awe of the experience. Never would I suggest that China is a vacation spot, but it is not a black hell hole either. Our experience is not the exception. I know that Nicole met the other half of our referral group(12 adoptive parents) in Beijing the day after we left to go home and that their experience was similar to ours.
Concerning airline travel...we joined American Express Platinum for $300 in 1996 in anticipation of our China trip. Using AmEx's participating airlines, if you buy one business or first class seat you get one free. We used Asiana Airlines and the fare was $4800 for both of us. Yes, this is more than two coach tickets for $2400 but if there is any way for you to make this happen you should. There are several reasons below in our order of priority:
I believe this to be comparable to most adoptions, especially when you consider 1st Class airfare and 3 days sightseeing in a city separate from the orphanage.
Larry DeVille <LDDeVille@msn.com>