Chinese Culture


After three trips to China (four for me), reading a number of books about China written by Chinese authors as well as our favorite American in China, Peter Hessler, and learning some rudimentary Chinese we’re starting to feel like we know a little something. So we’ve got the Chinese outfits, have learned a little Chinese, and we think we’ve got this nailed, right? Not so fast…2013-08-01-DSC_0582

Turns out that there are not pandas everywhere.  We had to buy these guys since pandas were a close second to a new sister for Rion.  He nearly threw at tantrum at the Great Wall because there weren’t any pandas there.  We did see one sleepy panda at the Hefei zoo.  She was hiding in her glass enclosure due to the extraordinary heat.  She ate a few bites of bamboo and went to sleep with her posterior (as Julia likes to say) facing the window.  Rion didn’t understand why there weren’t pandas at the Holiday Inn since they had small bamboo plants on the breakfast table.  He asked Julia’s foster mom why they didn’t have a panda on their rooftop garden since they had bamboo.  (Yes, we met Julia’s foster family – more on that in another post.)

2013-08-01-DSC_0556It turns out there are a lot of things you can do on the streets of China that you might not find in the U.S.  A quick haircut on the sidewalk is common-place both in in Beijing and Hefei.  What was somewhat unique in Hefei were the earwax ladies.  Every day we walked past these women with lights strapped to their foreheads and a handful of tools with little brushes on the end.  Business was thriving.  It was rare to see them without a client apparently suffering from severe earwax.  I’m not sure the ladies would have passed California’s standards for sanitizing those tools.


We didn’t find anyone familiar with fortune cookies by the way, and this is what a real Chinese take-out box looks like:


It’s A Rollercoaster Ride For Sure


We’ve now had Olivia in our family for 7 days. It’s a bit hard to explain how the transition is going. Moment to moment it’s sweet, crazy, sad, funny, frustrating, expected, unexpected, and sweet again. Last night after some really naughty dinner-time behavior Olivia gave me this little grin that I swear said “Yeah, you bought it hook, line, and sinker. I worked two years to create this narrative on the ‘An Orphan’s Wish’ website and you bought it. Hah! You thought I was this sweet quiet little girl, but this here is the real deal!” The thought totally made us laugh.



Yes, our little Olivia is a total sweetheart. She has the cutest smile, the most infectious raucus little girl laugh, and the most beautiful eyes. She is also a little person with a very strong mind of her own and a screaming voice to back it up. When she’s playing with Julia and Rion and doesn’t get her way I’m sure most people in our hotel know it. When she starts to get bored with breakfast she likes to throw noodles and other food items at the waitresses as they walk past. She is rough and tumble and even though we keep fussing at Rion for being too rough with her, she’s usually still laughing.


She has mostly warmed up to the kids and gets along with them like most siblings do, well at times, and not so well at others. Her relationship with us seems to be on a constant uphill slope, but with little dips in between that sometimes confuse and surprise us. With everything we’ve learned about adoption over the years and with two behind us, you’d think we’d just roll with it, and we mostly do, but there’s still this strong desire to feel the love back. We know it’ll come in time and we’re certainly seeing a little more each day.


Phil is out of the doghouse now and she’s starting to give him a lot of smiles and likes to play games with him. At first she was terrified of him and every other white male she encountered. We’ve been working on having him give her little snacks and things to help gain her trust.

Olivia seems to have figured out that I’m her mom and she comes to me when she’s hurt or needs to be held. But, I think ours is the most back and forth relationship in the family, and from what I hear from other families here that seems to be so common. I think it’s because I’m the one replacing her former caregivers and people she loved. She wants my attention and affection, but will often shove my hand away angrily when I try to stroke her. One minute she’ll grin at me and flash those twinkly eyes and the next moment she’ll glare at me like I tried to hurt her. The good thing is the happy moments are happening more frequently. The other good thing is that the angry moments show us that she had some sort of attachment in place before we came along. And that’s so important for her future bonding process with us.


At the moment we’re just trying to follow her lead and let her go as far with us as she is comfortable to do. She won’t let me kiss her, but she’ll now follow my lead, kiss her own finger after I kiss mine and then touch fingers, bringing a sweet smile to her face. I let her moments in my arms be as short as she wants them and then she’ll usually come back for more. So we’ll just keep enjoying the moments as they come and rejoice over each new victory! Can’t wait for a big grin, a giant bear hug and a kiss for those sweet little lips though!


Day 5? 6? 7? – We’ve Lost Track


As much as any place, Guangzhou feels like home to us in China. We’ve stayed here, in three different hotels, a total of about four weeks over the past three adoption trips. Guangzhou feels very welcoming. Trish and I both feel drawn to it more than anywhere else in China. I wish I had a week to just get out with shoes and a subway pass to explore the city randomly.

It’s a very cosmopolitan city. Lots of Westerners live here, and lots of immigrants from Africa and other countries live here as well. It’s far enough away from Beijing that it’s isolated from the politics of China. (Think Texas compared to D.C.) People here seem to have a bit more freedom, although it’s still very much communist China, one-child policy and all.

The city is huge, and if I could get to Wikipedia, I could tell you how huge. (But, you can’t get to everything on the internet in China.) Everywhere direction you look though, dozens of tall buildings dot the landscape, most seemingly apartments.

Guangzhou is tropical, and very lush, and it’s the middle of the rainy season here. It’s been quite a nice change from the sweltering heat of Hefei in Anhui province. But it’s supposed to get hotter over the next few days.

Thankfully, Guangzhou is also honk-free! Whoever runs the city has outlawed honking. Seriously, I know it’s not uncommon in countries other than the U.S., or New York, but Chinese drivers honk for everything. You might as well build a horn button into the driver’s seat. Traffic seems a little more orderly here than some cities in China.

Guangzhou’s also probably China’s greatest commercial city. You can buy almost anything made in China here in the city. Every October, Guangzhou hosts the world’s largest import-export convention and businessmen from all over the world flock here. It has a long history as a commercial city and all the Western trading powers and companies established outposts here in former Canton as early as 125 years ago.

For us, it’s also the central clearing point for every U.S. family adopting from China. The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou processes all the immigration paperwork for Chinese children adopted by U.S. citizens. Every family must meet personally with Consulate officials, swear an oath to raise the child (beats me what I’m swearing to), and wait a day or two for final immigration paperwork. Without this, you cannot bring your Chinese child into the U.S. legally.

So, in every major Western hotel in Guangzhou, you’ll find at least a dozen or more adoptive families from all over the U.S. It’s always fun to talk with them, compare backgrounds in the U.S. and their experiences all over China. Every family usually compares how well the bonding process is proceeding. You’ll hear some interesting stories, such as one family adopting an 11 year old girl whose foster mother apparently told her she’d get to come back in a couple weeks after her visit to the U.S.

As reasonably intrepid travelers, Tricia and I enjoy meeting other people as much as anything. I’m lucky (as an introvert) to have my extrovert wife Tricia who’ll strike up a conversation with almost anybody. Without the kids, we probably would have had dinner last night with a group of Fed Ex pilots all speaking Tricia’s former lingo.

We’re enjoying and surviving the trip. It’s Sunday morning in Guangzhou, so we really only have a few more days here. We’ll catch the train to Hong Kong late Thursday afternoon, stay overnight, and fly out to San Francisco around midday Friday. Everybody misses home sweet home after 11 days of travel in three different cities.

Day 3 (and 4) – Introducing Olivia Jade!

After a good night’s sleep in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province where Olivia was born, we went to the civil affairs office. Trish and I waited with butterflies in our stomachs for Olivia’s arrival. An eternity later, she walked thru the doorway in the arms of the orphanage nanny, and burst into tears. But, Tricia has the best smile on her face holding our sweet little Olivia for the first time.


We banished the nanny that brought Olivia to us from the room as quickly as possible (with the help of our wonderful guide Ting Ting). Without that distraction, she settled down a little with the devoted but somewhat smothering attention of Julia and Rion.


Once we left the commotion of the civil affairs office, Olivia calmed down quite a bit. She lay contented in the arms of her new mother, who looked great for just “birthing” a new child.


She giggled for the first time at lunch when she poked at Rion’s eye with her chopsticks. (As I’m writing here Tuesday late afternoon, the three kids are running around our hotel room shrieking and laughing.) We can already tell Olivia won’t have any problem holding her own against Rion and Julia.


Finally, after one of the most traumatic mornings of her young life, Olivia fell fast asleep at nap time.


After dinner at Pizza Hut, Tricia gave the girls a bath together. Julia loved brushing Olivia’s beautiful long hair afterwards. Olivia played with mom’s sunglasses, and she looked too cool for school already.

For the most part, Olivia’s been scared of me because she just hasn’t had many men in her life yet. At first, when I tried to approach her, she started crying and shied away. But, she didn’t seem to mind if I gently touched her arm or her back while Tricia held her. She’s very observant though, and she’s watched me interact with Julia and Rion. This morning, at the civil affairs office again to finalize paperwork, Rion fell and bonked himself hard. Tricia set Olivia down to comfort Rion, I held out my arms a few feet away, and without much hesitation she walked over and climbed up on my lap. This afternoon, we finally had some hands free to snap a picture.



Overall, we’re so pleased with how quickly Olivia has adjusted. In many ways, she’s adjusting faster than Julia did four years ago. She loves Tricia’s doting, and the comfort of either of our arms. She loves playing with Julia and Rion, and she has a great little chortling laugh. We’re just so incredibly happy that we get the privilege of being this darling little girls’s parents forever.

Day One – Beijing

imageDespite the flight and a lack of sleep yesterday, we went on a very full day tour of Bejing.  We went to the Great Wall at Mutianyu.  (There are about five or six different places you can go to the Great Wall around Beijing.  Mutianyu was spectacular.  We rode a cable car to the highest section, and then did some up and down climbing.  It’s just staggering to think of the manpower involved in building the wall during the end of the Ming Dynasty in 1404.  We also enjoyed the drive through the lush green countryside.


Next, we stopped quickly at the jade factory for lunch (Chinese food of course).  After lunch we stopped at the silk factory.  We’ve never been there before.  It was really quite interesting to learn how they make silk bedding and silk thread from the cocoon of the silk moth.  The kids enjoyed it, and the parents did too.

After that, we took a short rickshaw tour of the old hutong neighborhood pictured below.image

In the hutongs, the Chinese lived in rooms surrounding a central courtyard.  They’re very old Beijing neighborhoods, and more and more of them are being destroyed for newer construction.

For dinner we had Mongolian hot pot (think fondue Chinese style), a very traditional Beijing dish.  Julia wasn’t a big fan, but the rest of us enjoyed it.  Then we visited the night food market, where you can buy almost anything on a stick from fruit to more exotic fare like tiny ducklings (head and all), frogs, and many other “yucky” items, as the kids said.   After twelve hours of touring, our excellent guide Stephanie put a very exhausted Rhodes family in the car for our hotel where we crashed.

Logged In!

Today we received a pretty, formal letter from our wonderful adoption agency, Great Wall China Adoption.  The letter gave our log in date with CCCWA, China’s adoption oversight agency, of February 26, 2013.  This took a little less than two weeks after our agency sent our dossier to China.  Now, the wait begins for receipt of our official letter seeking confirmation, which is the official referral of Olivia from China.  (Then, we can post pictures of this adorable little girl for you to see!)  Great Wall says referral is taking between 5 and 12 weeks right now.  To be honest, we’ve almost always received things faster than the average or estimated time.  God works in the details, thankfully.

We’re Off to China! Err, Our Dossier Is Anyway

We’re triple certified!  We found out yesterday that the Chinese consulate in San Francisco finally authenticated our dossier.  They sent it out Thursday Fed Ex overnight to our adoption agency Beijing just in time for the weekly package to their Beijing office.  Great Wall hand delivers to the China Center of Adoption Affairs, which is the Chinese government agency that oversees all adoptions in China.

The international adoption process involves a surprising amount of certifying this, that or the other thing.  You need many signatures notarized.  Your doctor’s signature on your physical needs to be notarized.  Your social worker’s signature on your home study needs to be notarized.  Of course, your signature needs to be notarized as well.  Then, you have the state government secretary of state’s office certify that the notaries your used are in fact notaries in your state.  Finally, you send it to the Chinese consulate so they can certify that the secretary of state is in fact your secretary of state.  That’s the simplified version.

What’s timeline look like now?  Our adoption agency estimates it’s taking between 2 and 6 weeks to get a “log in” date, which is confirmation they’ve received your dossier and put it in their system.  Then, it’s taking between 5-12 weeks for the “letter seeking confirmation,” which is the official Chinese referral of the potential child to us.  So, our current wait time is between 7 and 18 weeks.  After that, we’ll need travel approval from the Chinese government, our U.S. consulate appointment, our Chinese visas, and our tickets to fly!  Then, we’re off to China for real!

Adoption Fatigue

The Family Network

A year after bringing Julia home, we started the process again for a little brother or sister. It took longer than expected, but two and a half years after Julia we brought home little Rion.  We adopted Rion, our ever energetic second kid, from Taiyuan City in the Shanxi province of China in May 2012.  He was a little over 3 years old and brought with him a whole new set of adoption challenges.  Our social workers at The Family Network prepared us to deal with the feelings of grief and loss during the adoption transition.  After our relatively smooth adoption of Julia from China in 2009, we felt well prepared.

Rion had lived in one foster home since he was an infant and he had been spoiled and loved!  While the spoiling wasn’t so good, we knew the love he had experienced would give him the ability to love us too and it was a great start for his life.  But the transition was HARD!  Imagine taking any 3 year old from the only family he knows and handing him to strangers who don’t speak his language, don’t look like him, and in an instant he has lost everything he knows and loves.  He has the clothes on his body and that’s it.  It was tough!  The first days and weeks were filled with Rion’s grief and anger at being taken from his foster parents. And despite our training, and the obvious grief he was dealing with, it was hard for us to love him when he was so difficult.  We felt protective of Julia who was dealing with jealousy issues.  We ourselves were tired, jet-lagged, living out of suitcases in a foreign country, and just having a rough time.

The second day with Rion, we ‘d reached our wit’s end.  At one point late that afternoon, Tricia and I sat for a brief rest on a park bench in China with Rion throwing a terrible tantrum.  The deafening noise caught the ear of a police officer who stood across the walk and stared at us.   Of course, our guide and interpreter had the afternoon off.  Tentatively, we started walking to the Pizza Hut at the park edge for dinner.  Thank God, the officer didn’t follow us, even with Rion screaming at the top of his lungs.  And trust me, we found out early, the boy’s got lungs.

It didn’t get any better at Pizza Hut either.  Rion kept screaming at the top of his lungs inside the Pizza Hut.  Quickly, we decided we couldn’t torture the other diners with his noise.  So, I took Rion outside and sat on the steps with him, holding him and listening to him screaming.  Trish sat inside with Julia and ate pizza.  Then, she came outside and took her turn with Rion.  Tricia and I struggled mightily to keep it together with the help of a lot of prayer.  By night’s end, after we’d finally put the kids to sleep, we just wanted to take Rion, go home, and not think about another adoption.

Even after we got home it was hard.  Rion threw insanely long and loud tantrums when he didn’t get his way.  We had to try and put aside our desire to discipline and instead to focus on helping him through this complicated grieving process, but it was so hard.

We’d dealt with adoption, the adoption paper chase, the home studies, the waiting, the praying and the agonizing since May 2008.  We’d had one failed international adoption attempt in Kyrgyzstan, one joyful adoption in China in 2009, and, so far, one challenging adoption.  We needed a break from it all, period.

We agreed not to talk about adoption again until 2014.  Then we agreed to talk about it in 2013, but just not do anything until 2014.  However, despite all our plans, throughout the summer God was moving in us….