This document copyright 1998 Marie L. Bartlett-Sloan
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Hi! Going to China to adopt a baby and haven't got a clue as to what to pack or what to do? Neither did we! The first several sets of families had to make it up as they went along, but one group would get back and pass on hints to the next.
This is an attempt to formalize these hints and do a little long distance hand-holding. There, there. You can do it. Feel better now?
I am a natural born list maker. If you aren't, learn this skill. You will discover your short term memory is going to fry out the closer you get to your departure date.
I took my lists, and the photos of what we packed to build this document. I also built on the experience of families who went before us and the families who traveled with us. If you have anything to add when you get back, please do so and help the ones who will follow.
This travel list may seem like a lot. Not everyone will want to take exactly what we took, but lots of the stuff (like batteries and Desitin) is small. A blow dryer may be essential for you, whereas I don't even own one. Look the list over and see what will work for you.
For more help, contact your nearest Families with Children from China chapter. You will meet people who have been there and done that, perhaps in the same city or province you will be going to. You'll be able to talk to people who have adopted children the same age as your own as well. Everyone is eager to help and offer support. Do it!
Don't worry if you forgot something. Someone else in your group didn't, and you can share.
Wednesday, we flew to Nanchang. At the airport, a local TV soap opera video crew drafted us to play foreign tourists arriving at the airport (gosh, I HATE typecasting!).
Up until this point, we knew nothing about the children we were about to receive. We had simply been told that a child had been identified for us and we were to go. That was the way things were done in 1994. I guess they were still ironing out the system. We were given slips of paper during dinner with all the available information about our babies. You can just imagine what that did to the rest of the meal!
About 8 in the evening, our whole group received their babies in the elevator lobby on the 12th floor. Most of us gathered in one lady's room for a while, where we gave our baby her first-from-us diaper change. Then we dispersed to become Parents on our own.
We named Louisa Evelyn during the night. We had come prepared with a short list of names, but we had to see her to know what her name really was. She slept through the night that first night. We didn't. We just stared at her. Her Chinese name is Deng Le. Le means Happy, and she is. The initials of her American name are LE through happiness rather than intent. Louisa is the sixth generation to bear that name.
Thursday, June 16, we signed the adoption papers. I gave Kirby his first Father's Day tie a few days early.
Friday and Saturday, we relaxed at the hotel with our babies while other people took care of the rest of the paperwork. The next available flight to Guangzhou was Sunday. We all, at various times, took strolls about with our babies and got nothing but positive responses from the people we met.
Sunday was Father's Day. We flew to Guangzhou and stayed at the White Swan Hotel. They gave us a dandy crib. Our room had a view of the river. It's close to the American consulate. It was great. Louisa was fascinated by the waterfall in the lobby, and a huge cage of noisy parakeets.
Monday we were guided through the steps to get our daughter's exit visa at the US Consulate. We had to have her examined at a clinic and get her exit visa picture taken. Then we presented paperwork and fees, and got the visa by 5 that day.
Some folks left on Tuesday. Some stayed to rest and do a tiny bit of sightseeing. Wednesday we flew to Hong Kong. Thursday we did sightseeing there, and Friday we flew back to the US, again packed in like sardines, but this time with our daughter who kept everyone entertained and awake.
Our family met us at O'Hare Field. They drove us home. Thank God. We were incapable of driving. We had an unbelievable case of jet lag. Louisa got over it faster than us. Give your precious daughter a kiss, and be prepared.
Monday, January 29, we were up early and packed, for it was the day we were to go to Nanjing. Though our flight wasn't until the afternoon, we left early and toured the Summer Palace. I think this was my favorite. It is a lovely place on a lake with gardens everywhere. People were ice skating on the lake and having a grand time.
The flight to Nanjing was tense for all of us -- Baby Hour was approaching fast! We couldn't wait for the flight to be over. But it was entertaining. All the passengers and crew participated in charades and sing-alongs. There were Chinese music videos on the TV. It was night when we landed. We were met by our guide and driver and taken to our hotel. Our luggage came in another van. We got up to our room and opened the door. There, waiting for us, was a green wooden crib with sheets and blankets all ready for the baby.
We videotaped the room for posterity, then heard a voice in the hall -- "The babies are here, the babies are here!" We had expected them the next day! We threw open the door and rushed to the hall. Within minutes, we received Julia. Then the luggage arrived. We began to sign adoption documents in the midst of all this bustle. Julia is named after my great-grandmother, my aunt, and my sister, making her the fourth generation to bear her name.
Tuesday, January 30, we completed the adoption process. We rested and did a little shopping the next few days. On Friday, February 2, we toured Dr. Sun Yat Sen's mausoleum -- a place of spectacular beauty and not to be missed. We also visited the Nanjing museum which was very interesting. That evening we began to pack in anticipation of our flight to Guangzhou the next day. We stayed at the White Swan again. Sunday, February 4, we got Julia's medical exam and visa picture done, then shopped and toured. Monday, we went to the American consulate and found they now had a nice room especially set up for adoptive families. In the afternoon, we toured and shopped, buying an umbrella stroller for Julia at the Friendship Store.
Tuesday, February 6, we flew to Shanghai, where we would pick up our flight home. We saw the Bund, shopped, toured, and rested. Friday, February 9, we flew on China Eastern Airlines from Shanghai to Beijing, and then home. We were all sick with colds and eager to be home. As the plane left Beijing, we could see the Great Wall down below. After a few hours, it was night and we began to cross Siberia and the Arctic Ocean. I hope that you may have the opportunity to do so sometime, at night, with a full moon. Looking down from our airplane onto the ice pack, glints of silver moonlight reflecting from water between the ice, was beautiful and awe inspiring.
Julia slept well for most of the trip. We had upgraded to first class for the return -- and I heartily recommend it!! We were much more comfortable, and the food was great. We got a bulkhead seat with a bassinet attached and settled Julia into it. Then began the Battle of the Zipper. Never having flown in first class before, I assumed it would be cold, so I bundled Julia up in a onesie, a blanket sleeper and her snowsuit. It was quite warm in first class, and even with the snowsuit off, Julia was sweating in no time. While she slept in the bassinet, I unzipped the blanket sleeper. Unbeknownst to me, the apprentice form of the Clothing Police is the China Eastern airline stewardess. A hand reached over and zipped her up. Julia began to sweat again. I unzipped her. Another stewardess passed by, and zipped her back up again. This went back and forth for a while, until I finally covered an unzipped Julia with a receiving blanket. But the entire crew was super, and the zipping was all done out of care and concern. Everybody played with the babies and toddlers, which helped make the trip a little easier.
We made it home. Louisa took to her new little sister right away, and now they are inseparable.
And now to the good stuff--------------------------------------
What's the weather going to be like?
Educate yourself before you go. Read as much as you can about China on all topics -- history, geography, culture, language, economics, agriculture, music, literature, religion, day to day life. It will enrich your experience and understanding of the country tremendously. It is so easy for us to see something and interpret it from an American point of view, sometimes erroneously. As an example, one adoptive father told us of going to the orphanage (back in 1994 or 95) to receive their daughter. He said it was at the very end of a narrow alley. I realized later he had described a hutong. A hutong is small dead end lane or street lined on both sides and at the end with small single (extended) family homes. The walls of the homes and gardens touch so there is only one entrance or exit to the community. And community it is, for families live in their homes for generations. So, was the orphanage hidden away at the end of an alley, or placed in the middle of a community? A very important difference!
Coming soon - Links to reading and video lists.
Relax and enjoy. If you are the sort that always has to be in charge, give it a rest. It will be strange enough to be in a country where you can't speak or read the language, without trying to maintain command. Let your guide guide you and sort out the paperwork, the bills, and the steps. You just relax and follow along like a little lamb. Save your energy for the baby. She's more fun.
Chinese public toilets: Brace yourself. Bring your own paper. Standard fee is about 3 jiao (about 2 cents). Some have Western plumbing of greater or lesser age. Some have stalls with a hole in the floor to squat over. Some have a gutter in the floor that you straddle and no stalls. Have fun.
Heating and air conditioning: You'll find it in your hotel, some of the more modern buildings, and some tourist attractions, but don't expect to find it anywhere else. Traditionally, the Chinese do not heat their homes and offices south of the Yangtse River. North of the Yangtse, homes are sometimes heated with charcoal braziers. (Now you know why they wear all that quilted clothing.) When we were in Nanjing in January, 1996, it was in the 20's, and people had their apartment windows open. We wore all our winter clothes in the government offices where we signed the adoption papers. In Shanghai, when we saw acrobats perform, I kept my hat, gloves, coat and scarf on through the whole performance, it was so cold in the theater. Therefore, you can assume that is the case in your child's orphanage or foster home. That's why babies are bundled up to the point they can't move in the winter. They need to be kept warm and not toss off their blankets. Even in the summer, your child may be wearing several layers of clothes. They are used to it. We underdress our kids in comparison. (see Clothing Police, below) So, once you receive your child, TAKE IT EASY ON THE HEAT OR AC IN YOUR HOTEL ROOM, AND LEAVE SOME CLOTHES ON THEM!! Your child will probably catch a cold anyway, but a moderate room temperature may at least lessen its severity.
Clothing Police: If you are receiving an infant or small toddler, you will meet them. They are the little old ladies who come up to you on the street, curious about your child. They will pull back the blanket and peer at her face. They will zip up zippers, rewrap scarves, pull up socks, pull down pants legs, and generally cluck and fuss about. Please be sure to put socks and shoes on your child even if it is 100 degrees. Keep a hat on her head. And above all, smile and be grateful for their attention. It is kind and sincere. I was fussed over by 3 little old ladies at the Temple of the Jade Buddha in Shanghai. You would have thought we were their own daughter and granddaughter, they were so pleased and happy. Our translator said they kept saying "Lucky baby!" and "Happy mother!" I could only smile broadly and say "shay shay" (thank you) a lot. It is one of my fondest memories of China.
Language tape pronunciation is for Beijing. As we went south, we could not make ourselves understood. Additionally, folks in Guangzhou and Hong Kong speak Cantonese rather than Mandarin. Bring a phrase book and point. Everyone can read the characters, no matter what they speak. If you are adopting a toddler or older child, be sure to learn words like mommy, daddy, potty, eat, sleep, yes, no, etc.
There's a fee for everything in China. That which would be covered by public taxes here is covered by individual fees there, as in toilets, parks, airport tax, etc. Carry enough yuan and jiao, but remember you must convert it before you leave because you can't take it out of the country.
Sightseeing: DO walk around. You will find the people friendly and nice. The Chinese do not have the same sense of space that we have, and will sometimes literally be in your face. Get someone to write a note for you in Chinese that says that your baby is an orphan and you are adopting her so you can show the note to folks. We got nothing but handshakes and smiles and thumbs up from all that we met. It was great. In Guangzhou, be sure to check out the Qing Ping market, which is near the White Swan Hotel. Always take a card with the hotel's name and address on it in Chinese when you leave your hotel. You can get this at the front desk, or grab a piece of stationery.
Souvenirs: Practice this phrase -- BOO YOW! Say it firmly. It means "do not want" (Literally bu=negative yao=want) You will need to say it often at the tourist attractions. That said, if you see something you like, buy it because you will not see it again on your trip, you won't find it cheaper in the US, and you will not be able to go back again and get it later.
Gifts: The Chinese have a pleasant habit of giving small presents to visitors, much as we would give a baseball cap to a friend. It is nice to return the compliment to those who have helped you in the adoption process. In the past, people have given perfume, cosmetics, scarves, cassette music tapes, postcards, souvenirs of your own town or state, Bulls (Michael Jordan) stuff, stamps, chocolate, pens. Please don't give anything that was made in China. Check with your agency and recently returned parents for more suggestions. I kept a stash of stamps handy in my camera bag at all times.
Disposable bottle liners: We brought both 8 oz and 4 oz sizes, about 100 of each , which was more than enough. When you are in transit, you can fill bottles with plain, boiled water to carry. Then portion out the proper amount of powdered formula in empty 4 oz liners. Close the liners up with a rubber band or scotch tape and it is ready to mix into the water when you need it. Be sure to leave a little head room in the bottle for mixing. Voila! No need to worry about spoilage if you do this on a daily basis. Don't stockpile them days in advance.
Nipples for the bottles: We brought 14, which was way more than enough for turn-around with washing and boiling them. Six or 8 should be sufficient. Also bring something to enlarge the nipple holes, if necessary, embroidery scissors, etc.
Bottle holders: We brought 3 of the 8 oz size and 2 of the 4 oz size, which gave us a good turn around, what with washing and boiling.
Burp cloths: Skip it. Use hand towels in the hotel. See also Bandannas.
Powdered formula: We used 14 oz cans of powdered Isomil. (Liquid formula is too heavy and bulky to bother with.) Others in our group used Prosobee. On our first trip, we used 2 cans of Isomil, had to buy a 3rd in Hong Kong, and also dipped into a can of Prosobee. Both these brands are soy based. This was for a 3 month old baby with a hearty appetite and no vomiting. Recommend taking 4 cans to be safe. The can will say how much liquid formula it will make up. If baby is taking more than 32 ounces a day, she needs solids too. I have heard that most babies do OK on the milk based formulas, but some have had troubles. A lactose intolerant baby will have diarrhea. A soy based formula will allow that to clear up. I opted to err on the side of caution, partly because lactose tolerance seems to go with societies with a dairy herding tradition (like Western Europeans), and lactose intolerance parallels societies without that tradition (such as China). On our second trip, we received an 8 month old who weighed about 16 pounds and ate like she was hollow. We went through four cans of Isomil in no time and bought one more. We kept her on formula alone until we got back to the US to avoid any digestive problems -- I figured one more week on formula wasn't going to hurt.
I have seen suggestions on the on-line services that you should repack the powdered formula in plastic bags to save space in the luggage. As a former bacteriologist, I would not do it. The tins don't take up that much space. They are hermetically sealed. You open them only as you need them. If you repack the formula, I guarantee that you will never achieve a totally sterile transfer from tin to bag. Some mold and fungi spores and bacteria will get in, as well as moisture, for a bag just can't be sealed as well as that tin was. Formula is a wonderful growth media for babies, and therefore also for molds, fungi and bacteria. The several days you will have in transit before you get your child will only be a head start for whatever might have gotten in to your powdered formula. In a hot, humid climate, just imagine what the last bag of formula might look like by the time you got to it. I just don't believe it is worth the risk of wasted formula or a sick child for the space savings.
That cute little bottom
Disposable diapers: On our first trip we were told that disposables were not readily available in China. We planned on 10/day for 2 weeks, or 140 diapers. We took 120 diapers based on conversations with others who had recently returned. We used about 80 for a three month old for 10 days. She did not have diarrhea. Get the ultra thin kind to take up less space. And still figure on 10/day in your plans, just in case. These days, disposable diapers are readily available in China. But, now you might find the store was cleaned out by the 40 families who came through town earlier in the week. Plan accordingly. I took about 60 to 80 diapers in 3 packages on our second trip, gave away one package, and was easily able to purchase a few more as a backup supply.
Baby wipes: We used a package of 168 and had to buy more in Guangzhou. Take more, like 500. Figure one or two for tinkles and 3 to 4 (or more!) for poopies. Don't bring a rigid container. Use refill packs in a ziploc so it will shrink in the luggage as you use them up.
Diaper rash creme: Be SURE it has Zinc oxide in it!!!!! (But if the child has a nasty rash, try to let her air dry as much as possible.)
Diaper bag w/ changing pad: Get a large one that can be easily wiped out. You can always stick your camera bag in it if they count too much carry on luggage.
Baby bath soap: Can double as shampoo. Don't bathe your baby immediately. Give her a little time to adjust to you. Louisa was so little I bathed her in the sink. Julia was too big for the sink, so I held her in my lap in the tub.
Cornstarch baby powder: For baby and mommy, especially if it is hot where you are going. Take one 4 oz. container.
Skin lotion or creme: such as Lubriderm, Eucerin. Some babies have very dry skin. Mom can use it too.
Cheap vinyl picnic tablecloth: The changing pad in a diaper bag is not big enough to keep the baby's legs and arms and head from touching the surface of the counter you have laid her on. If you have to change in an airport lavatory, or your hotel room is a little funky, or you have a baby who wants to play on the floor, this will be most useful, and is cheap enough to jettison on the way home.
Bundling your little bundle
Blankets: One or two cotton. We also brought flannel receiving blankets which turned out to have multiple uses. Sometimes the hotel will supply a blanket as well as sheets for the crib. You can also use bath towels.
Sleepers: Baby can kick off the blanket in a hotel room and then get chilled in a onesie. But also bring onesies for daytime. Drawstring kimonos are good too.
Extremities: Baby hats, socks, and soft shoes, even in the summer!
Other clothes: Little dresses, pant and shirt sets, etc. On our second trip, which was in the winter, we brought blanket sleepers, onesies, corduroy overalls with knit turtleneck shirts, a one piece snowsuit with hood and feet, soft shoes and socks, little knit hats, and (big mistake) a cute little 2 piece nylon jogging outfit that made her so slippery she was almost impossible to hold. When going outside, we layered the baby thusly -- diaper, onesie, either blanket sleeper or other garment, socks, soft shoes, snowsuit, and over all this, a blanket. (see Clothing Police, above)
Pedialyte: To replace baby's electrolytes in case she gets diarrhea. Use the drug store brand if the contents are the same as the brand name Pedialyte. We brought one package of four 8oz bottles. If you need more, you need to get the baby to the doctor. None of us used any at all. There is also a powdered version -- just add boiled water. &&&
Digital baby thermometer, probe covers, and small travel tube of Vaseline: Be sure to take a baby book that tells you how to use a rectal thermometer.
Baby Tylenol drops / Baby other: take several packages. You can always give extras to the orphanage. Discuss dosages with your pediatrician before leaving.
Baby cold medicines: Discuss dosages with your pediatrician before leaving.
OR skip the above and take ...
The Texas Medical Kit: We are taking this on our next trip. More information can be found at http://www.orphanallies.org/pediatricmedicalkit.html
Snugli, sling, stroller???? I opted for the Snugli on both trips because I figured a lot of snuggles and cuddles would be good for both of us. If in doubt, put on the sling or Snugli, drop in a couple of bags of flour to about the child's weight, and carry this around for 8 to 10 hours. For that extra touch of realism, drag a fully packed suitcase. That should tell you what you need to know. Umbrella strollers may or may not be the ticket for the older child. If you are adopting a mobile toddler and decide against a stroller, remember that a tired toddler will just quit walking and collapse where they are. When you try to pick them up, you will find they have turned into cute little lumps of unhappy lead. Umbrella strollers are readily available in China. Don't bring one, buy one there after you get your child. Infant car seats are too cumbersome and heavy to bother with in addition to all your luggage and a squirming child.
Good baby book: They don't come with instruction manuals. I know. I looked. This is a good item for your travel group to share amongst yourselves. Each couple can take a different book. There are several excellent books available, and each has its merits.
Toys, rattles, cardboard books: Shopping for these will be the most fun. Foot rattles are fun, but may startle a child who has been bundled. Toy key rings are great. There is also a toy key ring that has photo holders so you can put pictures of siblings, grandparents, the cat in them. Keep your eye peeled for Chinese toys too. Even if they are too advanced for your child now, she will appreciate them later.
For the older child
A lot depends on the child's age and the season. A six year old might enjoy a shopping trip for clothes and shoes. A 2 year old probably wouldn't. But keep a trip to the store in mind. It's hard to estimate size based on an old medical report.
That said, you can punt by bringing pants and shirts on the large side. If too big, you can roll up the legs and sleeves. Bring one or two pairs of tennis shoes. If too big, a second pair of socks will work until you can buy the right size.
Kids above 12 months will probably be taking solids. Bring some Cheerios. They will be able to eat a remarkable amount of things from your plate. Just mash with a fork if necessary. Don't introduce too many new foods to an infant who isn't very used to solids yet. At 8 months, our Julia had not been introduced to solids, so we just waited until we got home before starting them, figuring that a few more days wouldn't hurt. Children of that age have probably gotten congee (rice gruel) so you can try that.
Toddlers may or may not be potty trained. Sometimes the potty trained child actually just has very well trained adults around them. In any event, accidents will surely happen while traveling. Bring some diapers or pullups along for just those occasions. Expect objections -- she's used to split pants. Talk to others who have adopted from this age group.
Bring some toys, books, picture flash cards, crayons and coloring books, a stuffed animal, things to take apart and put together again, little dinosaurs, etc. Try to avoid stuff that will fall on the floor and roll away under the airline seats. Don't spring the toys all at once. Keep some in reserve for those boring moments while traveling or waiting for the next thing to happen. Make a little photo album of your home, siblings, other family members, pets, your town, and talk about them.
2nd pair of shoes, maybe: We each brought 2 pairs of track shoes on both trips, since it's good practice not to wear the same pair of shoes day after day if you're going to be doing a lot of walking. As it turned out, we did not do a lot of walking on the first trip either before or after we got the baby. We spent the majority of our time in the room with the baby. On our second trip, our facilitator had us hiking around so much, both before and after we got the baby, that I was glad to have the second pair. Two pairs of shoes can also be very useful during the rainy season, so one pair can dry.
Flip-flops: Trust me. These are mandatory. People spit outdoors a lot in China. You won't want to walk on the floor bare-footed.
Toilet paper: You will encounter Western style toilet paper in the tourist hotels in Beijing and Guangzhou but you might get the local stuff in your baby's town, and, if you're lucky, in public toilets. Chinese toilet paper looks like crepe paper, comes in little teeny tiny rolls, and is treated like gold by the hotel staffs. We brought 3 rolls of Scott tissue on our first trip and used 1/2 of one. On our second trip, we brought one roll and didn't use it at all. However, if you get diarrhea, you may very well need it all. You can stomp the rolls flat or slip the toothpaste in the tube for packing purposes.
Paper or Styrofoam hot cups: In case you don't trust the rural hotel glasses. Highly recommended. We took a package of 50 and shared with others in our group on the first trip. On our second trip we took 6. The big city hotel glasses are OK.
Powdered Gatorade: This is a must to replace mommy and daddy's electrolytes in case you get diarrhea. Just mix it in bottled water.
Small hot pot: For washing and boiling the nipples. This is a small 4 to 6 cup pot that can be used to heat water, soup, coffee, etc. Westbend makes one, and there are probably several other brands as well. They can be found in the small appliance department at stores like Kmart, Walmart, Venture, etc.
REMEMBER, the tap water in China is NOT DRINKABLE!! You may bathe in it but don't even boil it yourself for drinking. Keep your mouth and eyes shut in the shower. We draped a washcloth over the faucet and handles to remind ourselves, because it is so automatic to drink from the tap. We boiled the nipples, rings and covers, and sometimes the bottle holders in bottled water and let them dry on the flannel receiving blankets. We preferred to err on the side of caution with this in China, since you don't have to boil nipples all the time back home.
Ziploc bags: all sizes, from sandwich to gallon. We packed our spillable toiletries in the smaller ones, and sealed our documents in the gallon size. Don't throw the empties out. Use them to dispose of soiled diapers.
Rubber bands/scotch tape: A multitude of uses. I squeezed the air out of the ziplocs I had packed liquid toiletries in and then rubber banded it to pack it more tightly. Scotch tape is great for taking tucks in too-large diapers on a too-small bottom.
Needle and thread
Small plastic trash bags: for disposing of soiled diapers. Remember, it is hot and humid there, and a diaper will smell pretty bad pretty fast unless you seal it shut in a plastic bag. You might also want to pack your shoes in them when packing to travel within China, just to keep the rest of your stuff clean.
Antibacterial wet wipes for your hands: Napkins are uncommon in China. Also useful after diaper changes when you can't wash your hands. Or use the baby wipes instead.
Saline nasal spray: For you on the airplane. The air on a plane is desert dry. If your nasal passages get too dried out, you'll be setting yourself up for a cold. Spritz your nose every hour or so. A water bottle is also useful. The flight attendants give you water every hour, but you might dry out faster. One lady suggested taking a small spray bottle so you can mist your face and breathe in the moisture. Can't hurt. Might help.
Bandannas: Bandannas have a multitude of uses ---- dribble wipes, sweat bands, bald spot protectors, baby shade, baby toy, replacement luggage handle, fashion statement, etc.
Good voltage converter: You will use this a lot for charging the video camera batteries. You will be dealing with at least two different types of plugs so be sure to get one with multiple plugs. Some plugs in the hotels are loose and you will have to fiddle around to get things to connect or charge. Bathroom plugs are special culprits, and sometimes don't work at all. Also used for hot pot. (By the way, some hotels have a special plug in the bathroom for razors. It works for razors, but killed our hot pot on the second trip.)
Saltines: In case you feel puny. We brought 1 package with one sleeve of crackers in it. You might want to bring 2 sleeves of crackers.
Cold, diarrhea, and constipation medications: Need I say more? Well, yeah. Some people swear that you can stave off digestive problems by taking one or two Pepto Bismol tablets a day. It coats the digestive tract but keeps things moving. They also say that if you do get a digestive problem, its better to take Pepto Bismol than Immodium. A dose of Immodium acts like quick setting cement, so the bug stays with you. Pepto allows things and the bug to move along in a more controlled manner. I think the jury is still out on this one but it certainly can't hurt. Be sure to read the box for Pepto's amusing but harmless visual side effect.
Sanitary supplies: For an exercise in international embarrassment, just try explaining this to a male guide.
Extra pair of glasses/contact lenses if you are blind.
Adequate supply of any prescription medications you need.
Sunscreen: Just take a tiny amount. You won't be outside that much.
Bug spray/creme: We saw fewer bugs in the Chinese cities than in American cities. I finally realized that was because they are so liberal in their use of pesticides. If you are going out into the countryside, you will need it.
Travel alarm: Hotels may or may not have alarm clocks.
Small pocket size notebook: to write down phone numbers, credit card numbers, names and addresses, your passport numbers, your thoughts as you travel through China, etc. And a pen. You can haggle on prices by writing numbers and passing the notes back and forth to the vendor. The Chinese use the same Arabic numbers we do. (But be sure you are both talking either in dollars or yuan !)
Good travel book on China: Several good ones are available. This is another item your travel group can share.
Laundry -- theory and practice
We got it done cheaply and well at the hotel in the baby's town, and expensively and well at the White Swan in Guangzhou. You usually have to have it in by a certain time in the morning in order to get it back the same day.
We brought some liquid laundry soap to rinse out stuff on the first trip but never used it. Hand washing was too big a pain compared to playing with the baby. We packed our clothes with the thought that we would do laundry once. On the first trip, we packed the tiny 3 month old size baby clothes with the thought that we would do laundry only in an emergency, and therefore packed 2 garments per day, or 24 little outfits. One problem is that the spotty air conditioning in the rural hotel left things so incredibly humid that nothing dried overnight. Some people used blow dryers. We packed a travel iron for the first trip but didn't bother with it on the second trip. Now, bear in mind that our baby was not spitting up all the time so we did not have to deal with clothes that began to smell after a day. Some people did do their own successfully in their room.
Some people have skipped the laundry problem entirely by abandoning clothing as they went. This freed up increasing amounts of space in their luggage for souvenirs.
On the first trip we used:
Be sure your luggage locks work. Bring extra luggage keys.
Be sure you check with your airline well in advance for any luggage restrictions, and check again 2 weeks out from your trip in case regulations have changed. If possible, it is a good idea to take a sample piece of carry on luggage to the airport and see if it really does fit your airline's requirements.
BE SURE the weaker member of the couple can lift each individual piece of luggage by themselves. BE SURE to take all your luggage on a "test drive" at home before committing yourself. Both of you must be able to schlep your luggage all by yourself over cracked sidewalks, while mom carries baby in the snugli. Don't buy new luggage. Use what you have and borrow from friends, who will have the thrill of looking at foreign luggage stickers all over their bags when you return them.
Since most luggage looks alike, I got some colored tape (like electrical tape) and put green and orange stripes the length of each piece. I used the same color pattern on each piece. If the tape wouldn't stick to the canvas of a duffel, I wrapped the handles. I even taped our carry on luggage, which was never checked. Bumper stickers would work too. ("See Rock City!") We had no trouble spotting our luggage fast as it came out on the conveyor and there was no chance someone else could mistake it for theirs.
Use sturdy luggage tags, and be sure to put your name and BUSINESS address both INSIDE and OUTSIDE your luggage, including the phone number of a contact at home. I taped our luggage tags firmly to our bags, making sure the address showed, in case the tag strap broke, which it did.
We did a full pack of all our luggage 1 week in advance of our departure for our first trip, and I am sure glad we did. I had set one bedroom aside as a staging area weeks before but even so, it took me almost a full day to get it all organized and packed. This was much longer than I had anticipated. Packing a week out also gave us enough time to remember what we forgot, redistribute the weight, rethink our logistics, and most importantly, get a good night's sleep the night before we left.
When you pack your luggage, try to do it on the first floor of your home, rather than wrestle a full suitcase down the stairs. This is no time to throw your back.
Should you pack each person's stuff in their own individual bags, or spread things out so that if one bag is lost, one person won't be left naked? We did one bag per person on the first trip, but carried a one day supply of essentials in the carryons. We spread things out across the luggage on the second trip and I could not find anything for the entire trip. By the time we returned, I had pretty much repacked to one person per bag. This one is up to you.
DO NOT pack your documents. Put them in the carryon.
Prior to the trip, vegetarians need to inform their trans-Pacific airline of their dietary request. They need to reconfirm this one week before and one day before their flight. Also, inform the flight attendants as you board that you have requested vegetarian meals, so they can get them to you more easily, and so they don't accidentally give them away. This is not an issue for the in-China flights because they tend to be relatively short. (We did get a snack on one flight that looked remarkably like Klingon ghaakh. It didn't move, though.)
Vegetarians will have no problem in China, though we had to be flexible a few times when non-vegetarians ordered for us. Breakfast buffets at all the hotels on both trips were splendid and more than adequate for even a vegan. Dinner menus were equally flexible. We got lunches on the fly, and usually carried some granola bars.
If you are adopting an older infant or toddler, be sure to have kiddy snacks readily available in the hotel room for emergencies -- Cheerios (which you can safely repack), fruit rollups, granola bars, zwieback, rice cereal, oatmeal, etc. Jar baby food is too heavy to mess with. You can easily mash table food with a fork if necessary.
Everyone should bring some snacks or comfort food for themselves, but it must all be sealed in its original packaging to get it into China. Suggested chow includes assorted nuts, cup o' soup, ramen, prunes, coffee bags, tea bags, peanut butter, prunes, saltines, granola bars, Pringles, prunes, chocolate bars, gum, and dried fruit, especially prunes. And don't forget plastic utensils. And prunes. We left most of it behind when we came home, so bring less than you think you'll need. You can pick up all kinds of American snacks at the Friendship stores if you get desperate, but it's expensive. (I never saw popcorn available anywhere. AARRRRGGHHHH!) Don't bring fresh fruit or anything that needs to be refrigerated. Prunes travel well, tho.
On the other hand, there was a minifridge in every hotel we stayed in. Very handy for storing baby's bottle. Check the price list before you enjoy the refrigerator contents, and please remember that the little ice cubes in those tiny freezers might have been made from water you wouldn't want to drink at room temperature. Freezing does not kill all bacteria and viruses. If you want to drink or eat something from the hotel minifridge, check to be sure the can isn't rusting.
CHINESE TAP WATER IS NOT DRINKABLE!! REMEMBER THIS!! Drinking water was a big mystery to me until we got there. The hotel will supply you with a large thermos of hot boiled water and another of cool boiled water. You can get these replenished as needed by asking the attendant on the floor any time of the day. Additionally, bottled water is sold everywhere. It comes in plastic bottles of various sizes and is cheap. Carry a bottle or two with you in the diaper bag as you go about for your own drinking needs. We found that making up the baby's formula with the same brand of bottled water all the time was less stressful on the baby's tummy than relying on the boiled water in the thermos. Be sure you don't get overcharged for water at the tourist attractions. A 700 ml bottle should be about 3 yuan, not 10 yuan.
35 mm film: First trip we brought 22 rolls (36 and 24 exposure, 200 asa) and used 14. Second trip we brought 27 rolls (36 and 24 exposure, 200 asa) and used 17. (Our fellow travelers got to asking what number I was up to every time I changed a roll.) By the way, be sure to check the number of available exposures in your camera before something big happens, like receiving the baby. You want to be armed and ready with a full roll. I used a Sharpie pen to number each roll of film as it was shot. Then I numbered the envelopes when they were developed. It made organizing the photos much easier.
Panoramic cameras: They now come with flashes so get those. First trip we brought 3 and used 2.5. Second trip we brought 5 and used all. Well worth it. Got some great shots of the entire group seated at banquets.
AA batteries for flash: We brought 16 and used 4.
8 mm videotape: First trip we brought 12 and used 9 (18 hours worth). Second trip we brought 15 and used 11 (22 hours worth). There is an IBM computer program called Video Director available which helps immensely in editing this down. Also, some of the newest Pentiums have multi media software that can accomplish the same thing.
Video camera batteries: We brought 3 of the 2 1/2 hour type and 1 of the 1/2 hour type. As a result, we never had trouble running out of battery juice while traveling, so long as we were sure to keep them all charged all the time. Be sure to bring a good voltage converter.
Other media comments:
It is impossible to take too many pictures or too much video. You will always wish you had taken more.
Buy a video camera if you can possibly afford it. 8 mm is better quality and the camera is more likely to have the control jack that the Video Director computer program uses for editing. Both 8mm and VHSC can be dubbed onto regular video tape. Video tape saves the picture and the sound and we are so glad we taped as much as we did. We got video of us receiving our baby, how we reacted, what was said....absolutely invaluable!
Be sure to bring the instructions for your 35 mm camera and videocamera, and the receipts if they are new purchases so you can show it at customs.
If you are buying a new camera of any kind, be sure to practice with it before the trip! Develop some test rolls of film, especially indoor shots. Review the videos. We had a new video camera so we got lots of ceilings, walls, floors, and scenes so bouncy we got seasick watching them. Try to avoid taping while walking. Learn to do s-l-o-w panoramas. (Use these practice sessions to document the contents of your home for your homeowner's policy!) You'll want to get good pictures and video of this trip, because it's the only chance you'll get!
The lenses on your cameras and glasses will fog up often going from air conditioning to the great outdoors. The interior of the videocamera got too humid once, setting off a warning light. We had to leave it open overnight in the hotel room to dry out. Then it was OK. The solution to video camera fogging was to enclose the camera in a ziploc bag before taking it outside, then allowing the camera to come up to the outside temperature before taking it out of the bag.
Speaking of lenses, I took every 35mm camera lens I owned on the first trip. *sigh* It was too hazy and humid to get any use out of the telephoto lens, and we moved too fast during the whole trip for me to take time with the close-up lenses. Stick to something like a 50mm lens, a small zoom lens for face close-ups, and a small wide angle lens. Most of your time will be spent inside, and your subject matter will be people, one in particular.
As is true all over the world, use restraint in photographing at airports. It's one thing to take a picture of your group waving at the camera, and another if there's a radar installation in the background. The officials might get a little exercised. We had no problem taking pix anywhere. Ask if you have a doubt. We even got the adoption proceedings on videotape, after asking.
No photography is allowed outside at the American Consulate in Guangzhou.
Bring extra copies of your passports and all documents, credit card numbers, plus addresses and phone numbers of contacts at home, friends, relatives, your doctor, etc.
Credit cards: BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE USA, call all your credit card companies and see if they charge a CURRENCY CONVERSION FEE. American Express charges 1% just to convert from yuan to dollars. Others vary. Check it out. Hotels in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. We tended to charge meals to our room so we just had one bill to deal with. In Nanchang in 1994, it was all cash. That hotel did not seem to accept plastic at all. In 1996, cards were OK.
Bring cash AND travelers checks. We were easily able to exchange travelers checks for yuan at our hotels. The exchange rate will be posted at the desk and tends to be better for travelers checks. Reserve the cash for government fees. Use the travelers checks for other expenses.
How much money to bring? Well, certainly you need cash for the adoption related expenses, and your agency will tell you how much that will be. Some agencies charge a flat travel fee up front so your travel, food and tour expenses are taken care of. Others don't, so you will need money for that. What you spend on souvenirs is up to you. I would calculate that amount on the high side -- you're only going to be there getting your daughter once!
Get belts with zippered money compartments and pouches you can wear under your clothes to carry cash and passports.
We carried several thousands in cash on us, mostly in $100's. (You should have seen me at the bank, trying to persuade a very earnest and concerned Vice President that I really, really did want to take that much cash out the door!) The currency should be clean with no marks or tears. It doesn't have to be new, but it shouldn't have excessive wear. Check with your bank well in advance and tell them what you need. In some instances it may take them a few days to bring in enough $100's from the Federal Reserve. ($500 bills are no longer printed.)
My husband used a nylon money belt which looks like an ordinary men's belt when used with casual pants, but he wore this money belt under his clothes and used a regular belt with his pants. We also used fabric money pouches which you can wear under your clothes like shoulder holsters or cummerbunds. Since you want to wear loose, comfortable clothes on the flight, and loose, comfortable clothes in a hot country, there shouldn't be any visible lumps. There also are money pouches that strap to your calf if you're wearing long pants. Put your passport in your pouch too. You can always answer a call of nature right before you need to produce it.
Key point here is to forget that you are carrying thousands of dollars in cash. Act natural. Don't clutch one bag to you as if it carried your life savings. Miscreants look for that sort of body language.
You are more at risk of theft here than in China. The penalties for theft are so stiff over there that it is rare, though not unheard of. Also, crime just seems to be unthinkable to most members of that culture. I felt so safe walking the streets of China-safer than I have felt since I was a child. Additionally, there are attendants on every floor in the hotels, and they watch the comings and goings of their guests. They would notice someone who did not belong. I have not heard of any thefts from hotel rooms. On the other hand, don't be stupid. Take advantage of the hotel's safe deposit boxes, if available. Ask your guide before you wander off.
Money belts and pouches can be purchased at places like Walmart, Venture, Penney's, or specialty travel or luggage stores. The fabric money pouches can be rinsed out in the sink, which is really handy in that climate. However, put the cash and your passports in ziplocs so they don't get sweaty.
Shopping: It will be easier to shop at the Friendship store and the tourist attractions before you get the baby. Take advantage of it. Prices are dirt cheap. If you see it and like it, buy it for you won't see it again, you almost certainly can not get it cheaper in the US, and you can't go back to get it later. If you are interested in prints and paintings, take a large mailing tube with you to roll them up. We put flat art in the bottom of our hardsided luggage. Buy lots of books, especially at the tourists sites you will see. You can show them to your daughter later. Some tourist videos are available. Be sure you buy the VHS format because Chinese vcr's use a different format.
Some people have purchased future birthday presents for their daughter while in China so that each year she will get another little something from her homeland -- jewelry, jade, cloisonne, porcelain, books, etc. I think this is a lovely idea.
Customs: Be aware of the US regulations before you leave. The Chinese seem to call ivory "bone", and ivory is absolutely not allowed into the US. Keep a record of what you buy and keep your receipts. If you have nothing to declare, you might be waved through with no luggage inspection. Customs seems to know that if you are returning with an infant, you had no money and no luggage space or time to buy anything.
ET Phone Home: Get instructions from your phone company on how to call home. Shop around the long distance companies to see who can give you the best rate. We were easily able to direct dial from our room, even in the provinces, but we had to dial s-l-o-w-l-y to let the switching equipment process our call. It may be cheaper to use your calling card from China than to charge calls to the room. You can also fax home from the bigger hotels. I had one or two designated people at home to whom I gave lists of names and phone numbers. They would then spread the news when I called.
Draw up a will before you leave. You know you should, so now's the time. Select a guardian for your daughter, just in case. I was surprised at the peace of mind that doing this gave us.
The last two are highly unlikely. Crime is uncommon in China. But emergencies can happen anywhere, anytime. #2 happened to my neighbors several years ago and the poor widow spent a fortune shipping his body back. Therefore, we bought travelers insurance for about $80, which covered us for the above for the duration of our trip. Packages vary. Talk to your travel agent if you're interested. They will not cover your baby.
Health Insurance for your baby: Check with your benefits department to find out their requirements for adding your child to your insurance coverage. Be sure you understand the rules. If there is any doubt on your part, ask them again. Write up a memo of your discussion and review it with the benefits department to be sure you understand everything completely. Get any necessary documents in advance of your trip. See if they will accept a fax from China in the unlikely event you are delayed. If this sounds nit-picking, it is. However, it is too easy to misunderstand and suddenly end up with no coverage at all. You might also have someone in the benefits department who is simply misinformed about the law, so it is useful to be prepared.
The Federal law states that in most instances your child is covered from the moment you receive her. My benefits department was totally unaware of both the federal law and a 13 year old Illinois law that prohibited discrimination against adopted children in health coverage. They tried to refuse coverage. I had to give them copies of both laws before they would believe me. The Illinois law is Public Act 82-626. The Federal law is United States Public Law 103-66 (the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, pages 107 stat. 374 through 107 stat. 375). Most other states have similar laws. The reference librarian can help you find them. (Yes, state and federal statutes are in your local library.) If your benefits department gives you any lip, contact Adoptive Families of America (link soon) for more information. Also, contact your state insurance department. They just LOVE handling this one.
Health Insurance for you: Check your health coverage for overseas travel before leaving. See Worst Case Scenario Department (above)
Life and Disability Insurance: Now's the time to review this too.
Health and general maintenance
While you are getting the letter from your doctor, discuss immunizations. Many insurance plans will not cover immunizations for foreign travel. Tell them that you need immunizations because you are adopting a child from China who may have been exposed to etc etc. It is wise to discuss your own childhood disease immunizations at this time. You may want blood tests to be sure you are immune to measles, chickenpox, mumps, diphtheria, pertussus, etc. Update your tetanus shot. Some doctors will also give a polio booster. Discuss all this with the doctor well in advance because the hepatitis B immunizations have to be done over several months. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (CDC) have a traveler's hotline that will give you the latest information. The system will also fax it to you. That number is 404-332-4565. Or use this link http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm Have a pencil and paper handy when you call. If your doctor is unfamiliar with the diseases and immunizations involved, look for a tropical infectious disease center in your area. Many large hospitals and medical schools have them.
Despite all the excitement and stress you will experience after you receive your referral, it behooves you to take good care of your health during this time. The trip to China is demanding. You will be exposed to bacteria and viruses your immune system has not dealt with before. You will be jetlagged and sleep deprived, as well as happy beyond description. Get as much rest as you can, especially on the flight to China, and eat properly. Take vitamins. Take it easy.
Several of us got diarrhea in our baby's town, cause unknown. As a former bacteriologist, I did not feel that it was from the food, because none of us had eaten the same things, nor did we get sick at the same time, though it all did come from the same kitchen. I personally suspect it was because we picked up some of the baby's gut bacteria. Every human being in the world has bacteria in their gut, but mommy and daddy got to meet a new strain they had never encountered before from changing baby's diapers. No one got extremely sick. One good dose of Immodium and some Gatorade took care of it for everyone. I've gotten sicker from company picnics back home.
Do not under any circumstances go wading in fresh water ponds or streams.
The US government requires a medical exam for the baby in order to issue her exit visa. It is done at a clinic on Shamian Island in Guangzhou. It consists of the following: be sure she is not blind, be sure she is not deaf, listen to her heart, measure her length, weigh her, look in her mouth. That's it.
Make an appointment with your pediatrician so you can bring your baby in immediately after you return. It is also wise to talk to the pediatrician before you go, and discuss any concerns you may have. Be sure the doctor is aware of the CDC document and the recommendations of the American Medical Association. Find out if the doctor is familiar with issues related to China adoption. Remember how Chinese babies are bundled up in the winter? This leads to developmental delays, but it happens to every Chinese child, orphaned or not. Our s second daughter at 8 months of age could not sit up, hold up her head, or hold anything in her hands. However, she was right on target socially -- she smiled like a spotlight from the git-go. When we received her, we had to dig through thickly quilted outer clothing and a blanket sleeper before we finally found her in there -- and there had been a bunting over all that! So of course she could not move. My pediatrician, who had adopted from South America, told me later that her heart sank when she saw what appeared to be a `limp baby'. Then Julia promptly rolled over on the examination table for the very first time, just two weeks after we received her. Physicians unaware of this cultural difference have scared more than one parent half to death by telling them their wonderful new child has any number of severe problems. They need to be aware of this social difference so they can properly examine the baby.
Certain medical tests are highly recommended for your child by the American
Medical Association. Many people have had coverage denied for those tests because
it is not considered `well-baby' care. You can get a copy of the AMA recommendations
at this site: (link soon) Again, your state insurance department will help.
Don't let them get away with coverage denial. Coming soon - links to medical
info and AMA recommendations Coming soon - links to what to ask the pediatrician
What we brought that we did NOT need
Latex gloves: Just wash your hands a lot.
Baby oil: I brought Lubriderm for myself on the second trip and used a combination of that and Vaseline for Julia's dry skin.
Bar of soap for adults: There is soap and shampoo in all the hotels. The soap in the rural hotel made my skin itch so I used the baby's bar instead.
Too many books for pleasure reading: Just bring one big one for the flight to China. You won't have time for any more. You'll be able to get English language newspapers all over, as well as books at the tourist attractions, and believe me, you'll do plenty of reading in your baby book and travel guide.
What we didn't bring that we wish we had
A few baby toys and books (duuhhhhhhh!)
A soft U-shaped head support for the baby (I don't know what they're called.)
An inflatable neck support and earplugs for the airplane
Some people have taken
Pocket cassette recorder for an audio diary, plus music or relaxation tapes melatonin to aid sleep on the flight to China
Polaroid camera for fun moments sharing on the streets
Portable Shortwave Radio
Some groups have talked about pooling/packing common supplies, such as formula, diapers, etc. Listen up, people! You are traveling half way around the world! Pool/pack only what you can afford to loose! Baggage can get lost! Share your travel books, pleasure reading, etc. but spread out the risk with the stuff you absolutely must have. Better to take too many diapers among the group than loose them all in the one bag that gets lost.
Get prepared at home before you go
You're going to spend an awful lot more time at home with your child than you will in China. You're going to be tired when you get back. Set yourself up at home before you go so life is a little easier. Of course, some things you won't be able to do until you have your child and know more about her, but do what you can before you leave. Stock up on frozen dinners, carry out coupons, laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies, paper goods, cat litter, etc. Get a couple of extra laundry baskets. If your child is older, baby proof as much as possible beforehand. (But you'll still miss something.) Update your address book so you can quickly and easily get those thankyou notes and baby announcements out. Buy stamps. Get photo albums and scrap books, and get good ones. (The magnetic photo albums, with the clear sheet over a sticky backing, can be hard on photos over time.) We got each of our daughters a sturdy storage bin with lid for keepsakes, which we will upgrade to a Lane chest in time. If possible, make arrangements for someone to stay with you for a while until you recover from jet lag.
Got cats? Replace your daughter's bedroom door with a screen door. That way, kitty can see, hear, and smell what is going on and you can still control access.
Take a CPR class.
When you get home
Naturalization: You can order the form before you leave and start the process when you return.. Readoption: The most important reason to do this is to generate an American birth certificate. You also reconfirm that this your child. You can legally change her name at this time.
College: Start saving now.
Enjoy your new life as a family together!
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