Adopting our son Henry in Lanzhou, Gansu, gave him a family plus a birth certificate, a final certificate of adoption, and a Chinese passport. While he is legally as much a part of our family as any of the five of us, he cannot leave China for the United States without a travel visa petitioned through the office of the USCIS within the U.S. Consulate here in Guangzhou. This is a process that even three times through its hoops and hurdles has a few elements that to us are still mysterious.
Apparently the visa to enter the U.S. is needed for Henry but not for us because while he will be a U.S. citizen by virtue of his adoption this will not legally take effect until he touches U.S. soil. The process here includes a somewhat surreal but upbeat mandatory swearing-in ceremony, in which adopted children waiting in Guangzhou are brought to the consulate in pre-scheduled large groups for their parents to take an oath pledging that all of the documents submitted with the visa petition contain truthful information, as if acquiring any one of these documents didn't already have its own exhaustively authenticated paper trail. The parents file through lines to submit copies of their own and their child's passports through a glassed window, then comes the peculiar group oath, and then the parents are handed a brown envelope with their newly U.S. approved Chinese adoption documents that must not be unsealed until it is handed to U.S. Customs officers upon entering the U.S. Unsealing the envelope beforehand will void the child's visa. There is no photo taking allowed during the oath or the visa process.
But far be it for us New Orleanians to stand in the way of homeland security. We smile and make the best of it.
The U.S. visa process requires a medical exam at an authorized clinic, a service long performed by the local Chinese office of Health and Quarantine Services about four or five blocks from the White Swan Hotel here on Shamian Island. There sick local residents waiting for office visits stare quizzically at lines of foreign families scheduled to periodically file en masse through a special adoption examination area.
The doctors and nurses at the clinic are rather stoic but the exam is a good chance to get a general reading of your child’s current health. Henry came through his exam with flying colors on Tuesday. He is very small but healthy, all things considered. Doctors in Pingliang had repaired a bilateral inguinal hernia when he was about 5 months old and his caregivers at the Pingliang SWI had suggested that this may not have completely healed. Doctors here at the clinic said they saw no signs of any problems with his hernia. His cleft issues are what they are, waiting for our medical team to begin to address them at home.
Our little peanut weighs just 21 pounds including his clothes and shoes, but at the rate that he is eating (during nearly all of his waking moments) he should reach proportional weight for his size relatively soon after we’re home. Then we’ll start to substitute toys and other attractive alternatives to food outside of meal times.
We will leave here to begin our return almost immediately once we have Henry’s travel visa in hand, and plan to be back in New Orleans this weekend. This is probably our last blog post until we get home, as we finish up our last minute tasks and pack. [The dates on our posts seem to be about a day behind; it's Wednesday night here.] We’ll fly first to Beijing again. Then we’ll take an exact reverse route over the North Pole to Newark where we’ll make a connection for Houston then home. We’ve bought five seats for the longest stretch between Beijing and Newark, which should help. But we know from experience that the long series of flights home is usually the most difficult part of the trip.
Most children are loathe to sit for 15 minutes at a time, let alone 4 hours then 14 hours then 6 hours then 2 more hours punctuated by grueling airport layovers including one very difficult one upon re-entering the U.S. that requires rechecking all our bags through Customs quickly enough to make it to our next flight.
We know that eventually the trip will end and fade to memory then each of us will often find ourselves remembering China and all its lessons. But we will outwardly return to our regular lives as co-workers, neighbors, schoolmates, friends.
Still, we will never forget the wide-eyed adventure our girls had during the first part of this trip in and around Beijing, or anything from our time in Gansu Province, or from this (maybe our last) stay here at the White Swan. We’ll think often of many of the other adoptive families we met this time struggling through the same process, tears and joyful hope. We will never forget our Chinese friends here who we relied upon along the way--especially Chen Tianji (Steed) in Lanzhou and his young assistants Meaghan and Ester (from a Tibetan minority community in southeastern Gansu).
Lastly, we will always remember that sad highway crossroad in Jingchuan and all the other children we so regrettably had to leave behind at the Pingliang SWI. As with all our previous adoption trips (and another separate lonely trip back to southern Hunan): although we appear pretty much unchanged we will return home really not quite the same people as when we left.