Monthly Archives: June 2016

Subversive China

Summer is here and I have been stocking up on summer reading. I have recently read two rather depressing books by Chinese authors which were considered subversive by the Chinese government.

corpsewalkerThe Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu is a collection of interviews with people who are considered the bottom of society. They are all people who have run afoul of the Chinese government in some way or another. This is gritty China, where you can’t trust anyone or establish a stable home. Some of these people have chosen to take a courageous stand, some have made peace with their lot, and others are despicable characters who deserve what they get. I will be frank that I found each of the stories disturbing in some way. It took me awhile to read because I couldn’t read more than two or three interviews at a time. I also couldn’t put it down because it was so raw.

“My music is devoid of tenderness or love…Some sissy artists used to say that love is everything. That’s total bullsh*t. When your right to live is being threatened, where do you get love? On June 4, 1989, when soldiers opened fire at students and residents, one thousands shouts of love couldn’t even stop a single bullet.”

“Those muddy-legged peasants are running faster than us. They go to faraway places in droves to search for better opportunities…Some of them are running businesses; others are working at odd jobs. No matter what they do and how well they do, they share one common aspiration: to get the hell out of the countryside.”

“Times have changed. Everyone talks about money and nobody cares about Communism anymore.”

The book also illustrates the everyday nature of Chinese folk beliefs. The title comes from the practice of hiring someone to transport a body back to the person’s ancestral home for burial. Over time the rumor sprang up that these “corpse walkers” could enchant the corpse to walk with them on their journey. Two different interviews regarding corpse walkers are included. Another story involves a man matter of factly recounting that his wife was enchanted by the spirit of the dragon. The village burned her alive to “help” the man out with this problem. He then was expected to provide a feast for the villagers to thank them for this service.

dreamdingThe Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke is a novel which tells the story of one village of Henan going through the boom and bust cycle of the blood selling scandal and the AIDS aftermath which followed. While Yan’s characters are somewhat two dimensional, he does a good job of showing how the greed of the villagers got out of hand while at the same time showing that they were merely objects to be exploited by those with power. In many ways the story has an apocalyptic feel. This is the end of the world for the majority of the village. How do you live when almost everyone you know will die? The short-sightedness of actions like cutting down all the trees in the village to build coffins or stealing all of the furniture from the school are selfish but also show a group of people who cannot envision any future for themselves.

An interesting custom involving “ghost marriage” becomes part of the plot in the later part of the novel. With so many young unmarried people dying, the villagers begin to seek matches among the dead. The two young people would be married after their death. Now buried together, they will no longer be lonely in the afterlife.

This book is good for anyone interested in the background of how the AIDS crisis in China began. I also know many families who have adopted from Henan province. This book would provide a look at village life on the central China plains.

 

Advertisements

Considering Orphan Hosting Programs

At the end of May, I sat down to write a blog post on either foster care in China or orphan hosting programs. Realizing that May was national foster care month, I went that direction. The next day, I saw that Red Thread Advocates had written a post about orphan hosting programs. It’s always good to read other perspectives, and I picked up this post on My Overthinking which was written in response to the Red Thread post. Now that a month has gone by and the dust has settled, I thought I would give my opinion and advice on the subject for those of you who might be considering this method of finding your child.

So what is the deal with orphan hosting?

IMG_5856

Orphan programs have been used in other countries for many years and now China has begun to participate. A variety of agencies have programs and they are set up in many different ways. Usually, the children will travel to the United States for a few weeks during summer or Christmas break. Often, the children are hosted in private homes by families who have a completed home study, but being open to adopting is not a requirement for all agencies. There is a fee for to a family to host the child. Sometimes the host families must be within a certain geographic location, usually within close proximity to the sponsoring agency while other agencies have the children stay at a central location and families participate in organized activities to meet the children. The children who participate in the programs can be as young as three up to thirteen years of age.

Pros: It is undeniable that hosting programs are a great way to find homes for children at ages which are typically harder to place. Many families have adopted a child they never would have considered prior to the hosting experience. Families feel much more comfortable interacting with a child in person rather than reading a brief description in a file. Even if the family who hosts does not adopt the child, they can advocate for the child. Having a person who has met and interacted with the child can ease a family’s fears about the child’s special need or personality. If the child is adopted by the host family, it will make their transition after the adoption much easier. Children who are not adopted will benefit from the chance to experience family life and have the fun and excitement of a trip to America which they will remember for years to come.  

Cons: Many people have serious reservations about orphan hosting programs. Some argue that hosting programs place enormous pressure on the children.  While they are supposed to be told that they are going to America for a trip to learn about another culture, the reality is that many of these children will be told by orphanage personnel before they leave that if they are good and behave, they will get a family. Usually, the children will all come from the same orphanage, and it can be hard for children if they aren’t selected for hosting while their friends are. Just as in adoption, the younger children and girls are everyone’s first choice for hosting, while the boys get left behind. Certainly, for children in the younger ranges of three to five years, it is unlikely that they are able to have any understanding of what they are participating in. If they are adopted, will the child have the understanding that they are now a permanent part of family or will it take longer for them to feel secure since they were “sent away” back to the orphanage the first time they lived with the family?

Host parents can sometimes get a false impression of the child’s personality if they are on their best behavior during the trip. They might be caught off guard if attachment or behavioral issues show up after adoption because they had a false idea that their adoption would be easier because they already had a trial run at parenting the child. For example, I recently saw a couple asking why their older child adopted after hosting might suddenly be asking to sleep in their room with them. When people suggested the child was uncomfortable sleeping alone after many years of roommates in an orphanage, the parent said that couldn’t possibly be the case since the child didn’t complain while they were being hosted. Did the child not want to chance something going wrong by speaking up about their fears during the hosting time? Was the child wanting reassurance that their time in the family is now permanent rather than temporary?

20130906-102741.jpgFurthermore, it could be difficult if the child gets attached to the host family and the host family does not end up adopting the child. One woman who participated in a program told me that the child she hosted was crying at the airport, begging to be allowed to stay. Although they had already started the process to adopt the child, she was bound by the program rules to not tell him that. It was very difficult for her to see him upset and not be able to reassure him that he would be in their family forever in a few more months.

In the fall of 2015, a different type of hosting program began. Four different agencies sent volunteers to visit children from a particular orphanage. This is sometimes called “reverse hosting.” While groups taking trips to orphanages is nothing new, the purpose of this trip was advocacy specifically. The volunteers who participated were matched with a buddy to advocate for. They participated in a variety of activities with the kids during the week and then returned home to advocate for the kids they met through online avenues. If this program continues, it could possibly be a venue for meeting a potential child to adopt in a way similar to the blind referral system used by some countries. For a family open to a wide range of ages or special needs, spending a week getting to meet children already available for adoption could be a good way to find their child. However, this would have the same negative aspects as mentioned above. It is incredibly hard for children to be in competition for parents. Imagine the rejection they must feel as potential parents show up and always leave after choosing a different child.

It is important that the in-China hosting or camp program you choose to become involved in is focused on providing a fun experience for the child and not a parent-centered trip to an orphanage to “shop” for a child, thinly disguised as a humanitarian trip. These kids are smart. They know what is going on. Try to carefully evaluate the ethics of the organization, as well as how the program is run, to protect these children from heartbreak. Also, keep in mind that it is difficult to evaluate a child’s behavior in a realistic way in such a short amount of time. These kids want to please so much. If you take some time to watch videos of older kids available for adoption you will see that they are often shown cleaning the orphanage, playing an instrument, caring for younger children, or other activities designed to show off how much they deserve a family. They feel an enormous amount of pressure to prove that they are worthy of a family. All of these children are worthy of a family! Make your goal be to provide a fun experience for a great group of kids rather than auditioning potential children. If you happen to meet one who you believe is the child for your family then that’s wonderful, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the trip.

20130906-103543.jpgIf you are interested in hosting, you can get more information on programs through the Orphan Hosting From China facebook group. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions about how the program is run. I feel that it is very important to consider all of these programs from the child’s point of view. I would not personally choose to host a child who is young or whom I felt would not be developmentally able to understand the hosting program. I feel that hosting programs where the child travels to the US should be reserved for older kids who have been waiting for several years for a family. If you know that you cannot adopt the host child, do you think that it is very likely you would be in a position to find a potential family while the child is here? If not, I think that participating in a reverse hosting program would be a better fit if your main purpose is advocacy.

I have seen that some less ethical agencies are using orphan hosting programs as a way to find new clients. Several agencies are choosing the youngest children with the most minor needs for their programs. These are kids who don’t need to be hosted because they could easily be matched with a family through the normal adoption program. I find it telling that the most child-centered agencies do not have orphan hosting programs at all. They prefer to advocate for these children through other avenues. Please give serious consideration to the issues I have raised in this blog post concerning the negatives to orphan hosting programs as well as carefully choosing the agency and program which you wish to become involved with.

Repost: Taking Your Whole Big Family to China

I originally wrote this post in November 2013, after our September adoption trip. This is consistently one of my most popular posts because so many people wonder if taking their children with them is a good decision. This is the only post about travel on my blog, but I have two full travel related chapters in my book.

When my dear husband suggested we take our four children with us to China to adopt Leo, I thought he was crazy.  I had a long list of reasons why it was a bad idea.  But he listened to me, and I listened to him, and in the end I came to agree that there were a lot of good reasons why we should take them along.  I talked to several families who had taken a similar amount of children who were close in age to ours.  I remember asking one to write a blog post with her advice and suggestions.  But she never did, so I decided to write that post as my final post for National Adoption Month.  Because you know what?  Several people have asked me for the same sort of information since I’ve been home.  I guess there are a lot of us crazy families out there!

IMG_0660

So let’s talk about what is involved in taking your whole big family to China.  I’m going to talk about the various aspects of the trip and talk about what worked for us, as well as give general cost information.  If you are still trying to decide whether or not you want to take your children, I think what is most important is to consider the personalities of your children.  How easy going are they?  What are they like when they get off their routine?  Are they picky eaters?  This trip is long, there are times where you will spend an entire day waiting around an airport or driving through traffic so you can travel to a different city.  The food is unfamiliar, the jet lag is exhausting, and you’ll be adding a new family member on top of all that!  This will work best if your children are fairly flexible, old enough to understand that sometimes they’re going to be bored, and tend to be adventurous.

1. FlightsIMG_2140

Airfare is your largest expense in the trip, and there really isn’t much you can do about it.  The fare will vary by season, and while most families will prefer to travel over summer vacation, this is the most expensive time to travel.  We were not able to travel immediately due to circumstances beyond our control and the month long delay bumped us from summer into the fall when fares drop.  Airlines started offering child fares again, and it turned out that delaying travel by a month saved us $1000 per person in airfare.  (There were six of us, so you do the math here.) This may or may not be an option for you, but it is something to keep in mind.

Keeping the children entertained for hours on a plane was one of my biggest fears.  In the end, that was the easiest part of the trip.  Before we bought our tickets we made sure the plane had individual video consoles for every seat.  This meant that each child could watch on demand movies or tv shows for pretty much the entire flight.  We tried to get them to sleep, but since we usually have strict media limits, they all kept saying they weren’t sleepy because they didn’t want the tv time to be over.  In the end, this was very helpful in overcoming jet lag.  We didn’t have to keep awake very long once we arrived in China, and we all got a good night’s sleep the first night.

2. Accommodations IMG_0071_2

Your hotel cost is the second most expensive part of the trip.  Chinese hotels have limits on how many people can stay in a room, just like US hotels. While I have heard of people cramming six or seven into a room, most people will probably need to get a second room or maybe more depending on your party size.  Children age twelve and up are considered adults, and usually the limit is three adults per room.  We had one twelve year old, so we averaged two adults and two children per room.  Hotels will bring a cot to fit in an extra person for fee that is usually around $50.

You will have some choice as to what type of room you will be staying in.  You can choose to have a room with two “twin” beds, which are similar to a US full size, or a suite that has one king size bed and a living room area.  Sometimes you can get adjoining rooms, and other times they are not available.  We were fortunate enough to be able to have two adjoining rooms at all three hotels.  For our time in Beijing we did not pay for a suite because we knew we would be out sightseeing most of the day and would only be in the room to sleep.  The other two cities we did get one suite and one standard room.  We thought the living room area would give us more room to relax during nap time or on rainy days, and we were very happy with this decision.  Many hotels will also have an “executive” option where you pay more per day but have access to more free bottled water, a lounge, and sometimes a light food buffet.  We didn’t choose this option and got along just fine without the executive perks.

3. Food OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Most families really look forward to the free breakfast buffet included with the room.  At all three hotels where we stayed, the amount of food was extravagant.  American, European, and Asian breakfast foods were provided.  Most people say that after eating the breakfast buffet, they only ate one other full meal a day, with just a snack to get by. One problem we ran into was that not all hotels had the policy that all guests could eat free, or that all children under a certain age could eat free.  Sometimes the breakfast was limited to two guests per room, which left us short a few breakfasts.  We had the option to pay for the buffet but at a cost of $20 or more per person.  Since we could feed our entire group of eight people for less than that at a Chinese restaurant, we opted to take turns going to the buffet and the other people would eat in the room or at another local dining option.

Eating the local cuisine will definitely save you a lot of money because it was much cheaper than eating at the western food places like KFC or Pizza Hut.  Our meals out for seven people cost between $12 and $20.  A good portion of that cost was for soda since we couldn’t drink the water, and we didn’t care for Chinese tea.  If you don’t like Asian food, then you will need to budget more for food each day.  Eating at the hotel will obviously be more expensive than wandering out on the streets to find local restaurants.

Many families pack extra food along.  One woman I spoke with said they packed an entire suitcase of food!   We packed light, but you will definitely want to pack at least some snacks for times when you are traveling or are too exhausted to go out and get food.  Foods that most people pack include oatmeal or cream of wheat packets (there is an electric kettle in the room), granola bars, peanut butter crackers, travel packs of peanut butter, applesauce, pudding, or fruit cups, and tuna in the vacuum sealed pouch with some mayo packets.  Anything you can think of that travels well and can be eaten straight out of the packet or prepared with boiling water will do.  I also packed some of those disposable plastic red Solo bowls and a ziplock with plastic forks, spoons, and knives.  This was really helpful for when we had takeout in the room, and you can take plastic forks along when you eat out for kids who are too young to eat with chopsticks.

4. ToursOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You will need to decide if you want to travel straight to your province, or stop in either Beijing or Hong Kong for a day or two of sight-seeing.  If the budget is tight, then this is the best way to cut costs.  However, we felt that if we were going all that way, we didn’t want to miss out on seeing famous sights like the Great Wall!  You will pay per person for tours, and the ones we were offered ranged from $30 to $100+ per person.  This included transportation, English speaking guide services, and often a meal.  Some families will arrange for to use one of the several private guides recommended by others in the adoption community and this can be significantly cheaper than the tour companies.

We decided that touring in Beijing was important to us, and we did pay for extras like the guided tours because we knew those first two days would be rough while we were jet-lagged.  After that, we planned on seeing China without tours.  There are a lot of great things to see in Nanjing and Guangzhou, but we thought that just walking around in the hotel area to see the parks and shops would be entertaining as well.  That is what we did, and we had a great time.  I printed out maps ahead of time that showed the areas around our hotels as well as read up online to see what other adoptive parents said they liked to see and do at that location.  That’s how we ended up eating at the wonderfully tasty but still unnamed dumpling shop.  Guangzhou has a great subway system that is easy to navigate, so you can also try getting around that way.  Bringing Home Holland has very good directions on how to get from the China Hotel to the Safari Park on her blog.

We also felt that doing some fun touristy things on the front end of the tour would give us more flexibility after Leo joined our family.  Many children come with medical issues such as an ear infection.  It is not uncommon for them to grieve heavily through this transition time, and Leo had his sad moments.  We explained to the children that we might end up staying in the hotel all day if it seemed better for Leo, or because of poor weather.  I think we would have been more likely to have one of us and Linda take the older children out or down to swim in the hotel pool if Leo was grieving, but we wanted the children to understand that the trip was not a vacation, and to help them to empathize with Leo.  Things went very smoothly for us, but these are all things to consider when you are choosing whether or not to take your other children with you on the trip.

5. Packing IMG_2120

We packed so light that this picture shows all of our suitcases (minus three backpacks and my mother-in-law’s luggage).  It was great to not have to haul a huge amount through the airport!  Now, we were fortunate enough to travel in warm weather so we didn’t have to pack winter clothes for Beijing/Nanjing and summer clothes for Guangzhou.  My biggest advice here is to remember that you can buy pretty much anything you need in China–clothes, food, diapers and formula are all readily available.

In the carry on bag, I packed one outfit for everyone, medications, and toiletries in case our other two bags got lost.  The two larger bags I designated as the Beijing bag and the Nanjing bag.  I wanted to have everything we needed in Beijing in the Beijing bag so we wouldn’t even open the Nanjing bag until we arrived there.  The Beijing bag had outfits for the two days and swim gear while all of the baby stuff was in the Nanjing bag.  This system worked very all.  All of our important documents and electronics were in the backpacks we kept with us on the plane.

I packed about three pairs of shorts and four shirts for everyone, all mix and match.  Most of the shirts I packed for the children could fit at least two different children, so it was easy to find something that was clean enough to wear.  I mostly packed free activity related shirts for the kids that we could toss at the end of the trip.  For shoes, everyone but myself and my mother-in-law wore Keens.  We wore the same shoes every day, and that saved a lot of packing room.  Again, I know this isn’t possible for everyone due to weather or foot issues, but it worked out great for us.  We packed a reasonable amount of snacks and medicines, trusting that we could buy things we needed in China.  I only took one pack of American diapers, one bottle with two nipples, two sippy cups, and one can of formula.  I took most of the medicines out of their boxes or containers and packed them in snack sized ziplock bags, all clearly labeled with dosing information, and then packed the 15+ snack sized ziplocks into one quart sized one.  It saved a ton of space and kept everything together!  I highly recommend packing Melatonin to take in the evenings to help with jet lag.

IMG_1299Laundry is very expensive to have done at the hotels, and fairly expensive even sending out to a local place, just because you generate a lot of laundry.  I did all of our laundry by washing in the bathtub or sink.  I used Tide travel packets of soap, along with a bar of Fels-Naptha.  I found it worked best to just wash a few things every day.  We didn’t have any trouble getting things to dry, and you can finish off clothes that are a little damp by using the ironing board in the room.  I packed our clothes in large travel roll-up ziplock bags.  I was able to get one outfit for each of us (a full day’s set of clothing) in each bag.  It worked best if I took the time every evening to sort out what needed to be washed, what could be reworn, and sort clean clothing into outfits to go back into the bags.  It made it much easier to stay on top of the laundry and to have a clean outfit for everyone ready for the next day.

6. EntertainmentIMG_1392

There is a lot of time to fill in a two week trip to China.  We usually went out both in the morning and afternoon but we still had time in the hotel, in the van, and in the airport to kill.

I packed three backpacks: one for Matt and I to share, one for Mary Evelyn and Max (12 and 10), and one for Gregory and Vincent (7 and 4).  Mary Evelyn is wearing the Gregory/Vincent backpack here which doubled as our diaper bag when we went out.  The older two kids took their Nintendo DSes and I purchased a new game for each of them to help keep them entertained.  Gregory and Vincent took iPod shuffles filled with audiobooks.  Gregory loves to listen to audiobooks, and I purchased several new ones for him.  Vincent isn’t as occupied by audiobooks, but we already had an extra shuffle and he would listen to Winnie the Pooh or Beatrix Potter for half and hour at a time if needed.

IMG_1526Besides these bigger electronic items, each bag had items like a coloring book and crayons, word find book, packs of card games, travel play dough, colored pipe cleaners, and other little items that I picked up cheaply at a dollar store.  My mother in law Linda came armed with her own bag of entertainment and she saved us many times by pulling out some new little toy when tempers were running short and people were getting bored.

In the adult backpack we took our Ipad, which I used to blog and was our secret weapon during Leo’s naptime.  We were able to stream Netflix for American entertainment using a VPN to circumvent China’s internet restrictions.  Matt knew how to hook it up to the big screen TV provided at all the hotels so the kids could lounge around on the bed and watch a movie while the adults got some quiet recharging time.  We were also able to Facetime with Grandpa back home using the Ipad.

IMG_1348The last way to keep busy is the hotel pool.  I packed our swimsuits, swim diapers for Leo, goggles, and two swim rings which packed completely flat in the suitcase.  If you are traveling during cool weather, make sure you pick the items up during the summer when you can still get them in stores.  Check to see if your hotels have indoor or outdoor pools.  Many hotels require swim caps in China although we didn’t pack them and didn’t need them.

7. Bringing Extra HelpIMG_1519

We decided to see if my mother-in-law Linda would be interested in coming to China with us and we were so grateful that she said yes!  It was so helpful to have an extra set of hands so that our child to adult ratio was lower.  Our kids are old enough that we could have done it by ourselves, but it was much easier with Linda along.  If you’re thinking of bringing a friend or relative along, I’d recommend asking the same sorts of questions you would ask when thinking about bringing the children along.  Is this person an easy traveler?  Do you get along with them well?  You will be spending two weeks in close quarters, so you want to make sure that your companion won’t add friction to an already stressful trip.  Also consider whether they will be respectful of the attachment process.  Linda made sure she let us always carry, feed, and change Leo.  She mostly cared for the older children, and didn’t give any extra attention to Leo.  She asked me to take this picture as we were packing up to head home because she’d done such a good job of hanging back that she hadn’t ever held him like this before so they didn’t have any pictures together!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, I hope this has been helpful if you are thinking of taking several kids with you to China.  If there is something you are wondering about and I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment and I can add to the article.  I’d like to thank Ann from Crazy For Kids, Mandy from Our Bigger Picture, and Yvette from Bringing Home Holland who all gave me advice and encouragement.  While we were on the trip, I met Kristi from Fireworks and Fireflies who is very experienced at taking a large family to China.

Some blog posts which were written after we traveled: Nicole at Living Out His Love has a post on her experience taking siblings to adopt.  A more recent post on traveling with a large family is here and they traveled with children in wheelchairs!  Jill Bevan at Hilltop Memories gives some great tips from her trip here. Remember, you can do it, and you will have lots of fun making memories on the trip of a lifetime!

Note: Our trip was in September 2013 so keep in mind that the prices or options may no longer be accurate.