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Tuesday 11/26/2002

In the past, adopting families could expect to spend most of a day at the U.S. Consulate having their baby's immigration papers processed. New rules aimed at streamlining the process now allow the paperwork to be filled out in advance (we completed nearly all of ours in Changsha) and also allow the paperwork to be filed by an adoption agency coordinator. So while Cynthia files papers for us at the Consulate, we’ll have one last day of sightseeing, hosted by Wendy and John. Only 6 families show up for the tour. Most of our group (all but 4 families) will be leaving for Hong Kong tomorrow - I’d imagine they’re getting in some last minute shopping and packing.

Our first stop is a private kindergarten in a fairly affluent neighborhood of Guangzhou. The street is lined with the familiar matchbox apartments, but in this neighborhood they’re much cleaner and better maintained than we’ve seen anywhere else. John tells us that 310 kids attend this school, paying about 10,000 RMB a year in tuition. It’s a deal by American standards (only about $1200), but John reminds us that the average annual income for Guangzhou is only about 12,000 RMB. This is one of the best schools in Guangzhou - the competition to get in is fierce and the waiting list is long.

We’re met at the gate by the administrator, who leads us into a beautiful, park-like courtyard. A group of 20 or so kids are bouncing and rolling in unison to music, atop brightly colored balls. We line up and they perform a dance routine for us using the balls and other props. They seem delighted that we’ve come to visit.

We move inside to the music room, where we’re seated in small chairs along the walls. A group of a dozen or so students stands in the middle of the room, singing to us, while their teacher accompanies them on a piano. After their brief concert, we join in with them for rousing renditions of “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”. We finish by joining hands with them for a circle dance, which quickly devolves into general silliness - kids are kids no matter where you go.

All of the kids are quite cheerful, and it’s apparent from their clothes and general appearance that they come from families of means. The school itself is wonderful, even by Western standards - I’d have no problems at all with my kids attending a school just like this. The buildings are bright and clean, and everything seems to be new and in good repair. The teachers and students seem to be universally happy.

We visit a classroom and I spot a table where 3 kids (a girl and 2 boys) are playing with blocks. I sit down and help them with their building, which they think is hilarious. I take their picture and then show it to them on the camera’s built-in display; they’re delighted, laughing and pointing. Other than language, these kids are exactly the same as any kindergartners you’d meet back home. We also visit a dormitory (most of the kids stay the night during the week and go home on weekends) and an art room where several of the kids stop working on their projects and head into another room to get us a special treat. They return and hand out cups of water. No one wants to hurt their feelings, but after 2 weeks in China we’ve all become a little leery of water. Sensing our alarm, the teacher assures us that the water came from bottles, not the tap. In the courtyard outside of the art room another group is doing woodworking. They have saws and hammers, nails and screws - the tools are kid-sized, but real. It looks a little dangerous to me, but they seem to be doing OK.

It would be fun to spend the rest of the day here playing with the kids, but it’s time to move on. We say goodbye and get back on the bus. There was a little grumbling that with all of the historic tourist sites to visit we shouldn’t have wasted time at a kindergarten. But I thought that it was an excellent outing. Interacting with these kids on their own terms, on their own turf, was a really meaningful experience.

Before returning to the hotel we stop by a tea house to sample some traditional Chinese teas. On the way John tells us what he knows of the Chinese “tea culture”. It sounds very fussy, much like the cultures established by the wine snobs and coffee snobs back home. In the tea house we’re seated on small stools around a low table. Our hostess explains each tea and then pours samples for us in tiny porcelain cups. Each sample is brewed quickly (within seconds) right at the table. As always, the hostess assures us that if we find a tea that we’d like to buy she will get us a “special price”. The teas are interesting, but the flavors are a little too subtle for my taste. We don’t stay long because it’s getting close to noon - time for bottles and naps!

Back at the White Swan, Cynthia is waiting for us in the parking lot. She boards the bus and hands out official certificates of abandonment and adoption, along with vaccination records. We’re to reassemble at 3:30 in the hotel lobby to go to the U.S. Consulate to file the final paperwork and take the group oath.

The Consulate is immediately adjacent to the White Swan and it only takes a few minutes to walk there. We line up at a small guard shack outside the consulate gate which is manned by a young Chinese man in a blue uniform with an American flag on the sleeve. He carefully scrutinizes all of our passport photos, parents and babies alike. A small group of locals has gathered outside the gate, apparently to watch the proceedings. Inside the gate is a grassy courtyard, ringed by a concrete sidewalk. A second uniformed Chinese man, this one somewhat officious, orders everyone to form a single file line along one side of the sidewalk. He moves us forward in groups of 4 or 5 families to a second guard shack where our passports are checked once again. From there we pass through a metal detector, through a second gate, and finally into the consulate.

We’re herded, along with 100 or more other families, into a waiting room that was designed to hold no more that half this many people. There are windows numbered 1 to 7, but of course only one of them is actually open for business. Even that paragon of inefficiency, the Bank of China, always had at least two windows in operation whenever I stopped in to change money. Cynthia passes out photocopies of our passports which we had submitted with our other paperwork. We then take turns moving to the window to show them to the clerk so she can see that they really match us. Somehow this process allows her to verify that everyone who submitted paperwork is actually present for the group oath, but I can’t quite figure out how. But I stick to the promise I made when this whole process started a year and a half ago - don't ask questions, just do as you're told. I play along.

It takes 20 minutes or so to verify all of the passports and then a consular official in a suit and tie steps into the waiting room to administer the oath. After a very brief congratulatory speech he asks us all to raise our right hands. He then asks a single question - do we swear that all of the documentation we’ve filed is truthful and accurate. In unison we answer “I do”, and it’s over. After all of the months and years of working and planning these babies are ours now, and they're free to return to the United States with us!

We regroup in the White Swan's lobby and pose for a few group pictures, including pictures of the babies on the famous “red couch”. Not surprisingly, it’s very difficult to get the babies to hold still for their picture. Once the pictures are done we pile into cabs (there seems to be an endless supply of available cabs waiting outside of the White Swan) and head to the Hard Rock Cafe for a end of the adoption process celebration. We sit at a big table enjoying the 3 B’s - babies, burgers, and beer! We toast Cynthia and Wendy, laugh, and enjoy ourselves.

Most of our group will be heading home tomorrow. For us and the three other couples who won't be leaving until the next day it will be a final chance for shopping, and then packing up for the big trip back home! Back at the White Swan I step outside to take a few pictures of the lights along the Pearl River. A young Chinese woman carrying a shopping bag approaches - “I give you massage, OK?” I let her know that it’s definitely not OK, special price or not, and she moves on

On The Bus   Here's Hope, on the bus and ready for another day of sightseeing in Guangzhou.
Kindergarten   Students of the local kindergarten entertain us with their dance routine.
Kindergarten   More of the kindergarten dance routine.
Kindergarten   The dance routine features this big finish.
Kindergarten   Inside the classroom, everyone is quite busy.
Kindergarten   I had a lot of fun building with these two fellows.
Kindergarten   Me and my kindergarten building buddies!
Kindergarten   Kathy and Hope get into the act during music class.
Kindergarten   More fun building with the kids.
Kindergarten   There were lots of different projects in the art room.
Kindergarten   This boy was totally absorbed by his painting - he may not have even been aware that we were there.
Kindergarten   A view of the kindergarten's courtyard.
Tea House   At the tea house the hostess explains each tea and then passes out samples in tiny cups.
Tea House   Hope and Kathy chillin' in the tea house.
Red Couch   Chaos ensues as we try to get all 14 of the girls posed for their picture on the famous red couch in the lobby of the White Swan hotel. Hope is in the back row, second baby from the left.
Note - no babies were actually harmed in the taking of this photograph.
Hard Rock   Hope and Kathy on our final trip to the Guangzhou Hard Rock Cafe.
Hard Rock   Hope makes a move for Daddy's beer at the Hard Rock Cafe.
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