Drooling on the Pillow

Thursday, March 11, 2004


It took us two years to complete the paperwork for our Chinese adoption. Some of this is waiting, of course. You file for the background check, wait for the paper, fill out the paper, send in the paper and wait for the FBI to unearth all your youthly indiscretions. Etc. But a surprising amount of the two years was actually consumed by completing the paperwork. I've seen SEC filings with fewer boxes and less redaction. The Chinese invented bureaucracy and have had 3,000 years to work on the fine points. We also had the misfortune to apply in the middle of a bureaucratic war between the foreign ministry and some species of the interior ministry over control of the lucrative adoption franchise. That set us back four or five months. I have a friend, a literary agent, whose date for going to China and meeting her daughter last year coincided with the SARS outbreak. That would seem like worse luck, but they went anyway and everything worked out fine.

All this nit-picking and compulsive documentation is not entirely a bad thing, though. I have another friend who adopted from Guatemala. They went down to get their son and ran into "unforeseen problems" that were solved by two additional months and two additional thousand dollars into the palm of a judge. That wouldn't happen in China. And if it did, the judge, if he was lucky, would wind up picking nits on a collective nit farm somewhere in Xinjiang (not a quality of life place).

The Chinese make you jump through hoops, but once you make it through the last hoop everything happens exactly the way they say it will.

We were treated with a level of courtesy and kindness from everyone we met that would have made me proud if I was Chinese. Everyone.

Grace was born in Zhanjiang, way down south, only a couple hundred miles from Vietnam. It's one of their Economic Development Zones. My impression, based on less than two weeks residence, is that it is a crummy little seaport over which a zillion dollars in development is being poured to turn it into they know not what. Massive projects everywhere. Skyscrapers going up with bamboo scaffolding in the middle of a square mile of nothing, not even a street. This is cowboy capitalism the likes of which hasn't been seen in this country for a hundred years. It's also far off the beaten track. I had the impression that westerners are extremely exotic here. Lane and I did a lot of exploring in the older sections. There is a beautiful park downtown with a magnificent memorial to Sun Yat-Sen. There are also market areas loaded with funk where you can get just about anything you want, if you know what I mean. When we took Grace in her stroller to these places and paused for one minute there would be a crowd of fifty people trying to talk with us or just gawking. Some would be trying to sell us money (we were warned to steer far away from these), a lot of them just wanted to touch Lane's (red) hair, but mostly they wanted to know what the deal was and try out their scraps of English.

But virtually every one of them wound up saying the same thing. In English if they had it, or they would say it in Chinese and urge someone to translate it for us. It was the same thing said to us by customs agents, ministry officials, cab drivers, by the clouds of tiny young women in ball gowns who wait on you in department stores, waiters, passport photographers, hotel clerks, doctors, street hustlers and shop keepers. Sooner or later they all said the same thing. "Lucky girl."

Well, let me tell you. It's been six years now and Grace's parents are the lucky ones.

But that's for another time.
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