In my last post, I began to tell the story of The Land of Tea, when we traveled to China in 2004 to adopt our older daughter, Astrid. This post concludes our journey. I hesitated to post it as is, with a burning desire to edit to make it “better” – funnier, more vivid, less naive. Re-reading it now, I seem so, less jaded, somehow. The wide-eyed neophyte parent shines through, for sure. And the final paragraph? Well, that has turned out to be so true – it’s impossible to maintain the magical bubble that is parenting an unknown ten-month-old from a hotel room in another country when you return to the reality of keeping a house from falling apart, while both working full-time and trying to get some semblance of a supper on the table each night. While I may have felt worldly simply by traveling across it, years later I know a whole lot more about the world having seen it through the eyes of my children all over again.
Originally posted on our family blog, August 2004:
We aren’t in Guangzhou proper, but on Shamian Island, separated by a bridge on the Pearl River from the main city, in a fancy hotel called The White Swan, which is filled with foreigners adopting Chinese children. It is Adoption-Land, or Fantasyland, as one in our group calls it. First, the architecture is completely European colonial, since the island was where European traders were separated from mainland China during the 1700s and 1800s. It is less than a mile long and less than a mile wide. Running the length of the island is Shamian Blvd., a banyan-lined parkway with enormous colonial homes and buildings in brilliant colors – apple green casement windows, rich terra cottas and vibrant Tuscan yellows. The Consulates for France, the Netherlands, Australia, the US, and Spain are here, so there are international adoptive families thronging the streets with their strollers, shopping in the dozens of boutiques filled with baby wear.
But today I walked across the bridge to the main part of Guangzhou and it is a different world. I went to the Qing Ping market – several years ago home to smugglers of exotic animals and probably a pocket of SARS – now it is more a commodities market of oddities for consumption. The streets are muddy, the people live in abject poverty, and the peddlers offer turtles, eels, prawns, little chicks, kittens (the Chinese brochure says that they are “for adoption”), and more. It was an eye-opening look at the realities of life in Guangzhou. [2012 Note: At the time, I was much less well-versed in all the uncomfortable ethical questions of international adoption, where everything must be filtered through lenses of class, race, wealth, gender, and power].
Our daughter’s name – Astrid – means “star” or “from the stars”, which in Cantonese is sing, pronounced shing, so I call her shing shing to the shopkeepers, which means “little star.” They shower her with little toys and bracelets and delight in her.
All the clothes I brought were way too big – she is ten months old but weighs only 14 pounds and was brought to us in a 3-6 month sized creeper. I’ve tried to find some smaller things, but most of the clothes start at 12-month sizes. She is tiny.
Adoption Barbie and the Mattel Playroom
We received in our room one night, courtesy of Mattel, “Adoption Barbie”, who is apparently highly collectible (I’m hoping for camp reasons). There are two versions – one with the normal platinum Barbie hair, and another with a slightly darker strawberry blond; ours came with strawberry blond.