Friday, June 29, 2007

Home Again

Well, we survived. We are home safe and sound...

The flight from Korea to Atlanta went about as well as could be expected. Delta would not seat Shannon and I in the same row, but business class was not full, so we occupied two rows immediately behind each other with open adjacent seats. Shannon was in a bulkhead with bassinet mounts, so the flight attendants set up the bassinet. It wasn't particularly useful tho, being relatively tough plastic and very confining (I can't blame the boys for being uncomfortable in it), so we used it as a changing table for much of the time. We were pretty much celebrities on the plane, getting lots of attention from passengers, but almost non-stop from the flight attendants (over and above what we had gotten on the way over). Thanh somewhat likes to sleep on the floor, so he and I made a little nest and curled up for about 4 hours off and on through the flight, and he slept some in arms as well. Vinh was not as peaceful, and was passed from one flight attendant to another off and on as they had time in their normal duties. He made a complete tour of the plane (even the cockpit and coach class) and we were getting congratulations from passengers we hadn't even met as we got off the plane and moved through passport control and customs. One of the nice things about business class is that there is enough space between seats that fussy infants are not immensely distracting to other passengers tho.

When we got to Atlanta, we were warned that we may have a tight connection. We waited a relatively reasonable amount of time (10 minutes maybe?) for passport control, who told us to claim our luggage and go to the immigration desk before customs. We waited almost an hour for luggage. (I don't think we waited for an hour combined at all the foreign airports on the trip.) Luckily, the immigration desk was not busy, and she processed everything quickly (about 10 minutes, we were told to expect 20) and exempted us from customs. Thanh and Vinh officially became US Citizens at Midnight that day (June 27, 2007). We then rechecked luggage, cleared security (you have to clear security at most airports if connecting internationally, we also had to do this in Incheon both ways) and had only about 2 minutes before boarding our connection.

The Atlanta to Orlando leg was pretty much without incident. Again, Shannon and I were not sitting side-by-side, and I sat next to a grandfather who was more than happy and patient. When we arrived in Orlando, we took a minute to get organized and change the boys into fresh outfits, and then left the plane. Anne and Fred were waiting at the gate, having bought refundable tickets to get through security, then canceling them. They swore we were the last people off the plane (actually we were more like halfway through the deboarding) since they were anxiously waiting for us. We introduced the boys to them, and called my parents to introduce Nicholas Chaillee and Matthew Kent. Then we left the gates to several friends (Cathy Brantley, Laurie Dullmeyer, Tyger Roberts, Brian Buwalda, Valerie and Kate Woska) who were waiting with video and still cameras. We didn't wait long for luggage (glad the Korean Air priority tag meant more in Orlando than in Atlanta), and headed home to start our new lives together. Anne and Fred stayed the night so we could get some sleep, but of course we were up most of the night anyway. :)

This will likely be the final content posted to this blog, as it's purpose (to document our adoption experience) has been fulfilled. I may start a blog of the boys' life with us, at which point I will post a link to the new blog.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Back to Korea

Well, we made it back to Korea. We elected to leave an hour earlier than Anna recommended to make sure we had plenty of time (and to make it easier on her, since that was 10PM and we wanted to give her more stuff for the orphanage). Good thing we did. Major rainstorm slowed the driver, flight time had changed by 30 minutes earlier, and Delta had somehow managed to not associate the Infant-in-arms (IIA) tickets with our tickets on Korean Air's computer system. In the end, we wound up rebuying the tickets and walked straight onto the flight. We need to get home and to find out what the deal is, but I am so mad at Delta I can't see straight right now. All in all, it was about $900 for the tickets, so not cheap but not as bad as I had feared. Now we better not have problems with Delta getting the children on board on the Korean tickets, or I think I will go ballistic on them right here.

Yesterday was a decent day for the most part. Did the morning thing, then went to the mall and dropped about $200 on souvenirs, loading down the stroller handles to the max without unweighting them. The kids were very patient for the couple hours we were doing this and started to get restless, so we went to the lake park across the street that Anna had recommended. Very pretty, but very hot. (Actually the park wasn't so bad as it was shady, but crossing the street in the full sun by itself was enough to make you keel over.) It had a temple / pagoda structure in the middle of the lake, and would have been a nice walk in the evening (when Anna recommended going) had we made it. Since it was hot and we were overdoing it with the kids, we didn't spend much time tho and caught a cab ride home. Overall, yesterday made the trip a whole lot more positive, but we still can't wait to get home.

Rest of the day was spent packing. This is always stressful, especially with two overtired kids that don't sleep for more than an hour at a time. Bath time especially so, as Thanh was particularly rebellious in the sink as he struggled and stood and generally was behaving in a way that he could easily hurt himself. After long enough, he finally pushed Shannon over the edge of frustration. For the first time I think Thanh realized he had made us mad, as after I finished bathing and dressing him (his rebelliousness doing a number on me as well as he continued to struggle) and put him straight in his crib. He howled for a little while and tried to climb out, but after three reprimands for attempting to climb, he laid down without barely a whimper and went to sleep solidly enough that we had to wake him up come time to check out.

One of the most frustrating things about adjusting to life with the boys is trying to figure out what type of parenting they need and respond well to, which compounds exponentially when you think you figured something out only to have it change two days later, or you out of frustration try something that you were warned was not a good choice with adopted children (like letting them cry out in the crib rather than comforting them) and it works better than everything else you have tried for that particular time. I think we (or at least I) am starting to realize the difference between a manipulative cry that will resolve itself and when they get so worked up that you will have to calm them down (whether from manipulation gone haywire or actual distress), but fatigue is making it difficult to identify those situations. It is also frustrating that we have so little information about life at the orphanage, in particular what their actual feeding schedule was (we were told several things, but the most prevalent was a full bottle every 2 hours, which obviously is either not true or overfed), and how they were put to bed. We are playing with feeding schedules a bit (somewhat giving into using bottles as pacifiers if necessary during the plane rides), and I think we may try a 6oz bottle more often instead. It doesn't make for a neat schedule, but the latest feeding cycle for Thanh he did not spit up at all, nor was he as upset as I though he would be when we reached the end of the bottle.

The plane ride this morning was better than I was fearing. Thanh slept (or at least was calm in arms) about 3 hours of the trip, and consequently I got the most rest I have had in a week at one time. Interestingly enough, my body must be adapting to the minimal sleep, as I am not particularly tired feeling now, although I'm sure if I were to try to sleep I would probably have no trouble doing so. We are checked into the transit hotel in Incheon, but I'm guessing neither of us will sleep substantially in the end. Even so, it's well worth it to have a sanctuary for the luggage and the kids. The accommodations are minimal - tiny room with a double bed, barely enough space for a crib (that no one will likely use the way it looks). It does have a bathroom with a shower, which could well be a lifesaver for me. Amazingly, Vinh is asleep next to me on the bed, since the room is so quiet it bothers me even. I'm pretty sure that is Thanh's immediate problem, as he has been sleeping in the stroller as long as he is out in the airport, but wakes within minutes of returning to the room. This could be interesting, when we get home if it turns out that Thanh wants noise but Vinh prefers a quite room. But then again, while we have had minimal success recently with Vinh and his crib, he still abhors it, preferring to sleep in arms, followed distantly by on a bed, in the middle of the floor, or virtually anywhere else.

Also, I think both kids are getting constipated again. We had to return to the glycerin for Vinh yesterday, and he was very bad. Both kids are starting to show general signs of discomfort however, and while Shannon and I have not talked about it I think we will probably stimulate them before boarding the next flight, as it has to be easier to to on the ground. We can't wait to see a doctor to find out what we can do about that, since we have done everything we were told but the advice only worked temporarily. Also, we will have to get them back onto anti-biotics, as we had to abandon the remaining doses for them. (I was afraid we could not transport it safely as it requires refrigeration. Given the delays at the airport this morning I was probably right.) We also are going to try to find children's Benadryl instead of the current anti-histamine, as we are not convinced it is entirely effective. Hopefully, a thorough doctor's visit where we have the capacity to do some actual diagnostics if necessary will provide some answers on some of the behavioral things as well.

There is something that Shannon and I both regard highly as truth, in that God will not give one more than they can handle. We have both lived by this through the last couple years to keep us going. Right now I believe the efficiency of the "business" side of this trip is an example of this from the other perspective, however, in that God is protecting us from truly being in over our heads. We found out from Anna that our group was the fastest they had ever performed, completing in 6 business days and being gone a total of 12 days including travel. Given how ragged Shannon and I are at this point, I truly believe that we could not handle more than we are enduring, and that God has guided the process to ensure that we will not be permanently damaged as individuals or as a family from the stresses of this experience. At the same time, the pessimist in me wonders how much the very harried schedule added was / is adding to the problems, but looking at how the kids have responded in the little bit of off time versus when we are running around to get somewhere (which is to say not markedly differently most of the time, except of course when we are packing up the room), I suspect the truth is closer in the former.

We must be gluttons for punishment, as we have still not eliminated going to either the beach or Susan's wedding. I'm starting to think I must be clinically insane, but I would really like to make the wedding as it is a good opportunity to introduce the boys to my side of the family. I'm thinking that in the end sanity will prevail tho and we will go home and more or less protect the boys while they heal physically, but also mentally from what must be an absolutely excruciating experience for them. Both can be played by ear, however, and will be in the end.

Shannon just returned after using the Internet somewhere (not sure how with Thanh along) and says she thinks their scabies has broken back out again. This would only surprise me in that neither Shannon nor I have symptoms, but it sure fits otherwise for them as some of the spots have reemerged. This could explain a lot of things about their discomfort and why they don't sleep for long periods of time. She is currently heading to the airport pharmacy to see if they have Promethrin cream, as we packed ours. (Promethrin is a RX drug in the US, but she said they were willing to sell her Zyrtec so if it's in stock she will probably get it. We may ditch it before entry tho to make sure there are no customs problems.)

I think thats all there is for now, and Vinh just woke up as close to happy as I've seen (only a minor squeak), so thats all for now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Last Morning

Yesterday we finished up by going to the Visa interview, which wasn't bad. We didn't wait long, and it wasn't as far away as we believed. Simple interview, friendly Consulate staff member. We mostly verbally confirmed most of the info on the Visa application, signed it, and went over the medical results to ensure that we knew that the doctor had indicated a "lung infection." (That's common terminology for a cold here.) She said it was not categorized highly enough to prevent travel, but to make sure it was treated when we got home. (Like we needed to be told that! Not that she new the history of our trip...)

Went to the lobby and kids were being good after the trip, so Shannon and I split a cheesecake type thing out of the lobby bakery case. Was really good.

Came upstairs and the boys had no interested in napping. They played (Thanh somewhat rambunctiously) for several hours before finally falling asleep, but it was early evening before they did so. Once they were asleep, we had discussed rotating for a massage at the hotel. A 30 minute massage only cost 10USD, so it's quite a bargain and quite an experience. (My back was getting very sore from all the pacing with one or the other little monkey squirming in my arms over the previous nights.) I started, and it was a very interesting experience. Starts as a typical massage in the US, but eventually she was kneeling on the table to get the appropriate leverage to really dig in. I had wondered if it would include the standing part you see in Japanese massage photos as there were bars installed on the ceiling, but she worked in deeply and then smoothly less intensely, and the moved on to arms and legs. Once she had finished everything else, she agily jumped up on the table and was standing on my back. After asking to make sure I was OK, she was practically jumping on my back, moving very accurately to places that would be well supported and precisely providing the right pressure (probably by supporting herself somewhat on the bars). She cracked almost every vertebrae up my back. By now I was starting to get a headache (probably because of all of the junk she was releasing from my muscles), but then she worked on my neck and scalp (with her hands, not her feet) which helped that as well, working very specific facial muscles and contact point on my head. That was not very relaxing either, as she was pounding on my skull in several areas at one point. Overall, the massage left me very relaxed, but actually pretty sore. We will see how I feel in days to come. I told Shannon that while it was an interesting experience it probably wasn't for her.

Then we went to the traditional Vietnamese buffet for dinner. Also an interesting experience. The food is probably best described as a lot of Chinese type methods, with Indian influences for spicing and herbs. I have to be careful eating Indian, as I don't care for very herby tasting food, and Vietnamese is not different in that regard. So I have been burping up all sorts of unpleasant after flavors all night. They also had traditional Vietnamese musicians last night, who were dressed in traditional garb. Very beautiful costumes, and the instruments were very interesting as well. I'll have to do some research and write more later.

Unfortunately, last night was a severe regression in sleeping habits for Vinh, and Thanh was a bit restless as well. For the first several hours, he was pulling his "I don't want to be held, but don't put me down" routine, then after a while he was at least to the "carry me only" routine. We managed to get him to sleep for a total of an hour I think. Thanh at least slept more or less normally, other than it was only 45-60 minute intervals. The best theory that I can come up with is that they are not adapting as well as we thought over the last couple days, but were so overtired that with the medications it didn't matter until now, when they are caught up a bit on sleep. Sun came up with both kids already awake, and once it was they finally calmed down and played. At 5:30 we figured we might as well catch an early breakfast, so I jumped in the shower. By the time I got out both kids were almost asleep on the bed, so we joined them in a pile of limbs instead. Now both are at least semi awake and calm, although Thanh just rolled over and saw the laptop, so I doubt I have much time left.

We leave today. (Well, tomorrow at 1:30 am.) Plan is to try to tire the kids out as much as possible today I think, especially because we have a lot that we want to do before we go. Anna highly recommended seeing a lake park nearby, and there is another shopping center in the same area to finish souvenir shopping. Plus packing, although that shouldn't be so bad regardless of the boys' dispositions, as only the carry-on bags need to be in any semblance of order for the return home. We have agreed that all clothing will get washed, whether clean or not, to reduce the chance of bringing any bugs home (especially scabies). I think Shannon and I will probably shower and both use the cream in Korea assuming we use the transit hotel (which we are planning to) for the same reason. We will see.

Alright, Thanh is trying to tell me to stop typing, as he has been chasing me around the bed. (Every time he catches up I move to a new corner.) I'm guessing I won't be able to write again until Korea.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Visa Interview

Getting ready to meet to go to the Visa interview. Don't really know what to expect, but am told it's just a formality. Haven't been prepped for anything the way they did for the IR3/I600 interview, so hope thats correct.

Kids are asleep. This morning was similar to yesterday - up about 5:30, breakfast, showers, etc. Did a little shopping in the hotel gift shop. The shopkeeper spoke very good English and we talked quite a bit. Kids were pretty good, but eventually ran out of patience as they will. Brought them back up and put them down for naps. Both went down well, but Thanh woke up about 15 minutes later and was inconsolable for almost an hour. Eventually, we figured out he was hungry even tho it was 2 hours early from the schedule they had been keeping pretty faithfully. As I am not really concerned about an extra bottle or two (they could probably use it actually), we fed him, and by then Vinh was waking up and we fed him as well. At the same time, Shannon realized that Vinh had a fever of 102, even though he wasn't acting particularly distressed. After feeding and some Tylenol for Vinh, they played for about 2 hours. Thanh was a terror generally manhandling Vinh and they spend most of it wrestling back and forth for the same bottle cap, even though both had identical caps. They are certainly brothers! As most of the wrestling was antagonized by Thanh, we think we might name him something meaning "doesn't share well with others" when we change their names to English names.

Speaking of names, we also finally chose them. Not sure of the details of how (if) we are going to keep their VN names officially. I suspect it will be easier to just keep them as nicknames, but we will probably finally determine that during the "readoption" filings after we get home. Nope, not telling till we get off the plane in Orlando... :) (Especially at this late date.)

Oops, kids are up again, and it's time to get ready.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Well, evening feeding went pretty well considering. Both awoke 2 hours late and were obviously a mess for it. Vinh took his and with about 40 minutes of fussing was back asleep. Not ideal, but an improvement over many cycles. Thanh was ready to play and played for about 90 minutes before getting fussy and tired. It would be nice if he would realize that when he is tired he should just go to sleep. It is really hard to determine when we need to comfort him and when we need to leave him settle down by himself when putting him down. Sometimes (like this time) it seems all the comforting in the world does nothing, and as soon as we get frustrated and walk away he is fine. Other times he will go forever and all he needs is a few minutes to calm him down. Sooner or later we will figure it out (and he will figure out us), but sooner would be nice.

I don't think I have written about Hanoi yet. Hanoi is a more classic, yet more modern city than HCMC. My categorization of much of the architecture in HCMC would be crumbling shantytown, with lots of makeshift and tin roof construction and an occasional reasonably built commercial building, but Hanoi seems to be better built (for example, more tile roofs) and mostly more modern, at least based on the view from our hotel room window. At the same time, when you are at street level the building facades, streets and sidewalks are also a bit torn - not as badly as HCMC where navigating with a stroller was almost impossible, but enough that you have to watch your step. There isn't as much traffic and more traffic controls, at least here, but the characteristics are much the same - mostly motor scooters, only occasionally obeying the controls. The lights here also have a second mode where cars are stopped but scooters allowed to go through the intersection. I'm not sure what the logic of that is. The air is also cleaner here, as are facades. I think I would like Hanoi if we had more time to play tourist, but we will say that I'm not sure that a return to HCMC would necessarily be a priority. HCMC was not as clean or bright, although some of the areas seemed to have potential for wonderful flowers and gardening in the right seasons. While we were in Vung Tau, we noticed miles and miles of perfectly manicured formal landscaping along the road that leads in and out by skirting the peninsula. Gardening like this is apparently one of the things the Vietnamese take pride in, at least in the south. (I haven't noticed it as much in Hanoi.)

In both locations, the people take an immense pride in the appearance of whatever they are responsible for however. I noticed people hosing down the street outside our hotel daily in HCMC shortly before sunrise, and almost every shopkeeper keeps their wares in immaculate order - every box perfectly square, every stack perfectly straight. In the grocery store in HCMC it appeared that there was an employee assigned to every aisle whose only job was to ensure that displays were kept neat and orderly. There is an additional formality when in business contact. Things like offering all documents (including currency and receipts) with two hands and a slight bow of the head. They are forgiving of us brash tourists who do not follow the formalities, but nevertheless do not often fail to observe them on their part. I'm guessing that the fact that we are in mostly tourist areas is what catches us some slack, but it's hard to say.

I also forgot to write about an incident we had at the hotel in HCMC. We were in the lobby on Wednesday (?) to fill out some paperwork, having just returned from wherever we were and a man was there absolutely having a fit about something. He was swearing and using racial slurs and bringing up the war (he might have been a vet, I couldn't understand everything he was saying tho). He was probably from the US (unfortunately) judging by his accent (I'm guessing mid-atlantic, but hard to say) and references to the war. Through all of this, several hotel staff members had collected at the desk to either observe or address the situation. The man wanted his money back for some reason, and the hotel was not interested in doing so. Through all of this man's tirade, none of the hotel staff lost their cool... No raising of voices, no curt response, not so much as a flinch that we observed. Eventually the police arrived (they are never far away in that part of town, no more than a block) and the man was escorted into the lounge, and we do not know how the incident was eventually resolved. The brash American in me hopes that they hauled him off, but I'm guessing that they continued to be patient with the man until eventually realized that he was better of getting to the airport and leaving on time than pushing the matter into a sticky situation. Only a guess tho.

Tomorrow we have our Visa interview at 2pm, and we should have Visa in hand after 3pm on Tuesday. We will find out tomorrow what the details are for Tuesday. I'm starting to get nervous about the trip home. It will be a very, very long trip if the boys act the way they did on the trip up from HCMC. I understand they were very extenuating circumstances, but I don't want a repeat of those circumstances, and the conditions at some point in the trip will almost certainly be right for it to occur. How the trip goes may well be the final determining factor of whether we go to my cousin Susan's wedding in 10 days as well, as I have not yet rescheduled the tickets.

We are also still trying to determine whether or not we are going to go to the beach this year. Some may be determined by what state the office is in when I return, as well as obviously what state the boys are in. We may not have much of a choice tho as everyone else is still going, and we may need the help by then. I'm not sure that another change so soon is necessarily the best for the boys tho (same logic for Susan's wedding), so I really want to play it by ear.

Anyway, everyone is asleep, so I guess I should join them.


Back from shopping at the "mall." This one is actually a more western-style shopping mall, with mostly enclosed stores and a couple cart kiosks. It covers the first floor of the Hanoi Towers, which is kind of an extended hotel arrangement used by many foreigners that are in for long stays, including adoptive families. It's expensive (about 200USD / day) but apparently worth it for extended stays. I'm guessing the majority of guests are from the US, as the shops all take USD (not uncommon) but most handle enough of it that they gave change in USD (only place we have seen that). We got some souvenirs, but were kind of disappointed as the souvenir type shopping was much better at the tax center in HCMC. If things continue to get better, we may ask at the desk if there is another place to shop as we are in a touristy area I think.

Earlier while I was catching up this journal, Shannon had a burst of energy and completely cleaned the hotel room. Between our hasty packing, our late arrival, and the poor schedule, the entire room was a disorganized mess. We didn't just dump any luggage out on the floor, but in some cases we might as well have. Now luggage is at least tucked into corners and a bit better organized, and we have found homes for things like strollers. This room is bigger than the one in HCMC, but we have no more wall space with the way things are. Of course, if we were staying more than 3 days we probably would have actually unpacked, since this room has a closet with actual clothing storage (HCMC just basically had a hanging wardroom). Bottles are all washed (not washed as needed), and everything is much more homey. A good feeling.

After we got back from shopping we tried to put the twins down for a nap, as while they were great shopping, the were starting to act tired and a bit cranky at the end. We figured that between being tired and overdue for anti-histamine, it would be relatively easy. WRONG! We think we tried to put them down too fast and they were suffering from over stimulation from actually being out in public, possibly combined with the relative silence of this room (both compared with the orphanage and the shopping trip) and other things. Thanh went straight to sleep for all of 5 minutes, and then was up and almost inconsolable. Vinh was just inconsolable... didn't want to be held (very unusual for him) but screamed all the louder when he was put down. Bottles (water, dilute juice, or electrolytic powder) usually will slow both of them down at least, but neither would take one for more than a second or two. After almost an hour of me holding Thanh he finally settled down and crashed on the bed. I still have no idea what Shannon did to get Vinh in his crib, as it has been impossible for me to do so. (Shannon never succeeded in getting him in his crib in HCMC, I was the only one who could get him there, and it often took several tries.) Anyway, hopefully that was a lesson learned, and we will let them settle down before trying to put them down after being out.

Once we finally had them down we ordered room service. When it arrived they set up the card next to a bedside light that is on a dimmer. I commented to Shannon that it was our romantic candle light meal of the trip... :) Not quite, but probably going to have to do.

Called Fred (Shannon's father) yesterday and asked him to handle rebooking our plane tickets for us. Apparently, it took quite a while to find something, and according to Anne (Shannon's mother) he spent quite a while patiently telling our story and that we really needed to get home. From Anne's two sentence account, I'm guessing Delta followed the same trial we did to find the tickets in the first place and checked their own flight last, which is a little interesting. It is significantly less convenient, taking 30 hours instead of 26 or so and only operating 4 days a week, but that is where most of the availability is. (Actually, when I called originally Delta did not check this flight first either, even though I let the rep know I was expecting we would need to take it.) Regardless, the punch line is that we are now rebooked to leave at 1:30 Wednesday morning, with the same almost 8 hour layover in Seoul. The only difference is that we now only have a 2 hour layover in Atlanta to clear immigration, claim luggage, clear customs, and recheck luggage. Therefore, there is a non-trivial chance we may not make the connection. We are not concerned about it tho. Between having business class tickets, my platinum status, and the fact that we are traveling on a Wednesday night with two later flights, I'm not worried about getting home still that evening even if we miss it.

Overall, my read is that Thanh is adjusting well, especially considering the miserable schedule that has even wrecked havoc with my travel-tested bio-and psycho-systems. He seems to get happier and more playful every day. Vinh has further to go, but there are signs of improvement there as well. Unfortunately, our sleep deprivation is not letting us enjoy it much, but it does give us hope that someday we will fall into a routine and be able to be a family rather than a traveling circus. While we still have a long way to go, we hope that they have somewhat turned the corner, and will benefit from the regularity of getting into a routine, is all that is really keeping us going right now. I think that brings me almost current, other than some other topics that I will probably add after we get home. Kids are still asleep, so going to try to catch a nap as well.

Chaos Take Three

Baths, breakfast (both kids and parents), and showers later, and the kids are back asleep. (Without the anti-histamine, which I think is an extremely positive sign!) Back to the passports... The 'expedited passport processing' fee is actually paid to a facilitator that seems to collect all the paperwork and do all the filings and processing instead of waiting on the Government to do it? Not really clear on that process (and given the fee involved and comments by the CIS officer I'm not sure I want to be). Regardless, 300 USD for each passport is really seeming like a bargain after the last few days, considering it would have added at least a week otherwise from what I am told! For all that, it appears that we still needed to do certain things ourselves, and I had to do the last bit of filing myself when filing (although the processor was there to coach somewhat). The passport agent (government, not the external facilitator) made sure I could pronounce Vinh's name, didn't ask about Thanh's, and for some reason had me file for all three (including Oanh, the girl being adopted by the other family).

To get back to Friday, pickup was another of those situations. Shannon did not need to go, so she stayed at the hotel and I took one of the boys and Anna and I met the faciliator at the same passport office. He met us there, made a magic phone call, and a few minutes later Vinh's name was called over the loudspeaker. He told me to go up, sign, and that was it. (I guess he wasn't allowed at the window for pickup, only for filing? He never was very clear on that.) Then the agent gave me all three passports, which promptly were given to the facilitator so he could get the Visa medical results for us.

Back to the hotel to finish packing... We had been working on it for 4 hours when I left for the passport office, and it took another 2 to finally finish up with all the demands in caring for the boys, who were probably in the worst shape of the trip at the time. (It took us about 40 minutes to really pack to leave the States.) At that, we were totally disorganized, throwing stuff in wherever we could fit it. Luckily, we managed to compress down one bag due to the orphanage donations tho.

We were supposed to meet Anna to leave at 6 sharp for the airport, so we figured that we should be in the lobby no later than 5:30 to check out. We called for a porter at 5:40, and by 5:50 Anna was calling to find out where we are. (She is always 10 minutes early for everything; I'm not sure if that is her personality or it is her way to make sure everyone gets where they need to be.) We were still waiting for the porter who had been sent to the wrong room. We got to the lobby at 5:55 (with no luggage yet, the freight elevator sometimes takes a while to get) and it took almost 20 minutes to check out, so my gut reaction was correct. The other family was in the same shape at least. We left for the airport, which took almost 40 minutes to get there. (IIRC it's only 4 miles.)

With all that, we got to the airport, checked in, through security, and into the waiting area pretty much on time for our scheduled departure, which was delayed. We started boarding (which is to say we had moved from the waiting area to a bus as domestic flights apparently don't use jetways at Tan Son Nhut (HCMC) or Noi Bai (Hanoi), about when the flight was supposed to leave, only to be delayed again for a dignitary arrival. Then finally the ground stop was lifted and we were taken out to where the plane was, to be held on the bus for almost another 10 minutes and then taken back to the terminal, where we found out there were mechanical difficulties! All told, it amounted to a 2+ hour delay, with cranky babies that were supposed to be fed when we left the hotel, and didn't even start getting fed until after we were in the waiting area. Thanh does not eat well when he is overtired, and won't go to sleep when he is hungry. Add to that that they were in the carriers (no strollers after security), so they were both overheated, and it was a really rough night for them, us, Anna (who was a saint trying to help holding and playing with kids, handling luggage, whatever she could), and everyone else around us.

HCMC airport is hard to describe. Apparently you cannot enter the airport at all unless you are traveling, so there are constantly throngs of people everywhere outside in the street. This is the same street for drop off and pickup, so the congestion is amazing. In the USA, there would probably be people run over daily. Your luggage goes through an X-Ray immediately upon entering the airport, and is labeled with a sticker. Apparently these sticker are supposed to be very difficult to remove unless by a luggage belt, since half of our luggage was missing them but the other half are not coming off well. Entering is also a relative term, as the first floor to the street is mostly open, so it's really semi-open air. Check in is similar to the USA, without the trip to the X-ray (since that has already been done). Same with passing through with carry-ons. Then upstairs the "gates" are fairly different: you present your boarding pass and they check you in, but you are held in a holding area until the flight is called. Then cattle call style, you go down to the bus (no escalator - challenging with 5 carry ons, 2 strollers, and 2 fussing children). The upper of the airport is attempting to be modern, with shops and all, but is smoky and fairly dirty. Jet fuel and jet fumes permeate the facility. All in all, not an inviting place (although I've been in USA airports that are on par with it).

I forgot to mention that Shannon and I had not eaten since breakfast. This was the first time we had eaten together as a family... Shannon and I had been splitting breakfast since we couldn't get the boys calm and awake on the same schedule, and other meals were either room service, catch as we could, or in most cases, missed entirely.

The flight probably wouldn't have been bad had it not been for the really bad circumstances leading up to it. They were coach tickets on a fairly large Airbus 321 (of course Vietnam Air uses a French supplier), we were in row 30 of about 45 or so. We had about 2 inches more leg room than the typical American coach plane, and the plane was clean and unworn and perfectly prepared, down to neatly crossing each and every seatbelt on the seat. I really wonder how on earth they keep the planes that new, considering the passengers generally treated it even worse than US planes get treated. We were fed a choice of a Vietnamese beef noodle plate or a Dim Sum variety. The smell from the beef noodle plate turned my stomach so badly that I wasn't going to eat, but I toughed it out and gave the Dim Sum a try. It was typical airline food, well thought out, but suffering from being prepared 2+ hours ahead and resteamed. It settled my stomach a little at least.

Watching the Asian looking passengers eat (I assume most were Vietnamese, although I am not proficient at identifying nationality characteristics regardless of race) was not a stomach settling proposition either. Most ate the noodle dish, shoveling it in with about 3 chopstick loads. Belching is appropriate here, so the smell after the meal was worse than before (at least for several minutes until the air recirculated).

Once we finally arrived in Hanoi, luggage was prompt, but one of the strollers arrived missing a wheel, so it was another 10 minutes until they found that. (Luckily it just popped right back on, although the plastic is distressed so it will not stay as tightly. Should be functional as far as we need it to be tho.) Then, it was still 45 minutes by car (with almost no traffic) to the hotel, so it was past 2am by the time we were checked in, luggage out of the way. The boys had slept in the car at least, but were having nothing to do with sleeping in the hotel. Yet another night with almost no sleep, and Shannon and I were in such bad shape (physically, mentally, and homesick wise) that we both needed to hear familiar voice, so we called our respective parents and that bolstered our spirits as much as anything short of other than miraculously healthy babies and an instant 20 hours of sleep could. We both ordered room service for breakfast despite the free buffet, and mostly because it was what we should do than because we actually felt like eating.

Luckily Friday and Saturday morning will hopefully be the absolute rock bottom for the trip. We started the morning at the usual 5AM with the sunrise and fought through cranky babies all morning until we went to meet Anna in the lobby at 10 to fill out the Visa application. I think the twins kinda hit rock bottom too, as they were relatively well behaved through the process. Thanh was due to Gabriel (the 5 year old from the other family) generally acting like a clown and keeping him well entertained, but Vinh just looked like he could sleep for a week.

After the application was done, Anna had made an appointment for 11:30 at an International medical group not far from the hotel, so we chatted for a while and went there. American clinics should visit and take notes, as this is how clinics should run! Minimal waiting area, because there was minimal wait, minimal paperwork, the necessary drugs were available on the spot and all this for under 250 USD for both children. If we were home, the drugs alone would have probably been close to 200 USD. To top it off, they can't file insurance for obvious reasons, but gave us all the necessary documentation already in English and compatible with the US insurance system to do so, plus the doctor took the time to draft and email reports to us the same day that we can supply to their pediatrician when we get home. We were both completely blown away.

Our particular doctor was a French national whose wife is Dutch and assigned to the Dutch embassy currently. He said he just pretty much follows her wherever she is assigned around the world... Anyway, our read on the boys' conditions was pretty much right, plus an outer ear infection on Vinh's part. Also, some of the more scratched at skin bumps and lesions are starting to show signs of infection. After about 2 hours, we walked out with oral antibiotics and antihistamines, cortisone cream, and electrolyte replacement powder for adding to water. He said that should help, but time was the only remedy for most of it. As to the constipation, he said it was most likely caused by dehydration, and we should give them as much water as they wanted (hence the electrolyte powder). He also has recommended starting them on very small amounts of Mango juice (ideally, orange or pineapple will also work, but Mango is apparently the best), about 1oz / 2x day to start, and that should help stimulate the digestive tracts as well. He also gaged their actual age to be more like pushing 7 months due to the number of teeth presented and the milestones we were describing. Not all that important, but interesting to know since we were expecting that they were at least a month older, but starting to suspect they were even older than that as well.

He also asked a lot of questions about the orphange, including many of the same questions that the CIS officer asked. His reasoning was purely informational, and he was sad to hear some of the answers. He also does not hold the orphanages here in high regard as a whole, but his attitude comes from a sense of pity for the children rather than the disdain of the CIS officer. He said it sounds like Vung Tau is now a little better than average and has cleaned up some, but still falls short of suitable for child care. He also said that there are a lot of issues with the way the orphanages are run, and in some cases the "abandoned" children's mothers work at the orphanages until their children are adopted, then just disappear. Consequently, they are always curious to find out how many care givers there are at any given time, and informally it sounds like they track the ratio of children to care-givers as a partial indicator of what happens in that regard. No matter what point of view you look at, the situation is pretty unfortunate, although I would be surprised if it were a whole lot different in any other country that has an active foreign adoption program.

We also met a lady from Canada (specifically Toronto) there who had already been in country 7 weeks working on an adoption, and had not even gotten to the Giving and Receiving yet (basically the first step). She had her 7 year old with her, but her husband was at home. I think meeting us and chatting a bit lifted her spirits, as she was very calm and patient, but clearly frustrated at the endless delays. To top it off, she later said it was her and her husband's anniversary. Imagine being away from home on your anniversary, in an exotically foreign country with your 7 year old! Anyway, I wish we had exchanged emails, as we would both like to keep in touch to find out how she turns out, and we may try to find her as Shannon thinks she remembers her name and I'm pretty sure that she is staying at the Army hotel. Otherwise, the community of adoptive families from Vietnam is not that big, so we may be able to locate her through the Internet (Yahoo groups or something) either directly or indirectly. Regardless, we spoke at some length about our various experiences, and she seemed genuinely happy for us that we had gone through a relatively rapid process. A couple obvious differences that are probably making all the differences for her are that she is adopting a blood relative of her first adopted child, so she is working outside the normal procedures. The US State Department makes it very clear that they do not look favorably on adoptions where the adoptive parents know the identity of the child prior to starting the process. I understand this is to help prevent baby-trading and a host of other unethical activities, so it may well be for good reason. That said, if that statement is true I would expect it is true for other governments as well. The various Vietnamese governments generally also kinda like to run the show, so coming in with a specific child in mind probably creates cultural problems as well, no matter how well meaning the intentions are.

Second, she is adopting from a base of Hanoi, and the rules and process in the North is much different than in the south. For standard adoptions, Northern adoptions typically take a real 4 weeks in country (reinforced by a friend Shannon has made through the local adoption support group who is not traveling until next week and will not return until August), and often have more issues that cause delays. (Plus the quirk of the difference of the US consulate processing immigration vs. the Embassy processing visas costs an extra week for US folks.) This is the reason that most agencies we spoke work in the south and all but require the parents to travel in country during the process. The variation in times depending on the particular orphanage and local province is something that the agencies we talked to as part of our agency decision did a very good job of making parents aware while downplaying until travel time. But I digress.

Anyway, back to the hotel for baths, drugs, food and naps. The anti-histamine did it's job (both the primary purpose and the secondary sedative purpose) and the kids zonked out off and on for most of the afternoon. Shannon and I finally managed to get 6 hours of sleep in roughly 2 hour increments, which felt like almost a full night. We ordered room service around 1am (which never arrived and we didn't realize until after another sleep cycle, so about 3:30 am) and continued through the night in about 2 hour increments. At 3:30 we realized the food never arrived and decided to stick it out until the buffet opened at 6 (a very convenient time on our very newly established routine besides), so yet another period of 24 hours between meals. 5am brought the sunrise, and the kids stayed out until after 5:30 (a first they weren't up with the sun), at which point they got bathed, fed and loaded into strollers. Breakfast seemed like a feast, and for the first time in quite a while we actually felt good about eating. We had Dim sum dumplings, omelets, chocolate filled croissants, dried fruit, nuts, tea, Asian noodles, ham, cheese, chicken sausage, roasted tomatoes and cheese bread! Came back upstairs and had baths and the kids have been asleep for 3 hours, pretty much a new record. Even more encouraging was that they fell asleep it a heap of body parts on the bed before we could give them the antihistamine, so it was even natural sleep! Thanh woke up fussing but Vinh woke up quietly and is now entertaining himself with a rainbow worm that we brought from home. That didn't last long tho, so I will have to stop for a while as it is lunch time with a vengeance... :)

Chaos Take Two

OK, Thanh is changed and getting some breakfast. Realized that I already wrote about CIS for now.

Friday picked up passports from the VN passport office. Confirmed that the 'expedited' fee that we paid was actually to a facilitator/external processor type of person (not to be confused with the agency facilitators.) Oops, now there's Vinh....

Chaos Take One

Things have not been well the last couple days, but are looking a little better at the moment. Hopefully I'll have enough time to catch up, but as the sun is risen I expect I will not.

Thursday - CIS interview... Oops, there's Thanh, right as I expected.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rough Day

Finally, all's quiet on the Eastern front... As you can tell by my entry interval, today was not a particularly good day, although it is ending much, much better than it started. The twins tag teamed all night, so we probably got a cumulative 2 hours of sleep, ending at 4am when both were up and fussing constantly. We figured out about 4 that they were constipated, but at that time there isn't much we could do about it. (There isn't exactly a 24 hour Walgreens here.) Thanh's finally cleared on it's own about 8am (two diapers full, he was really backed up), but it took several hours for him to feel better I think. About the same time, we called Anna our facilitator, who came by the hotel with Thao. Anna and Shannon took the twins while Thao and I walked down the street to a pharmacy to get glycerin suppositories.

The pharmacy met absolutely no expectations when compared with those in the USA. This was a hole-in-the-wall store front, with a counter up front (no customer entry) and a pharmacist and all products in storage cases everywhere else in the space. The pharmacist asked what we needed in reasonable English and I asked for the glycerin suppositories, and she gave me a very quizzical look. Makes me wonder what they are used for here. Anyway, she asked what the problem was, and I told her, thinking the language barrier was a problem. She understood and started digging around the various boxes and came up with Duphalac. She spoke with Thao for a while in Vietnamese and I think she may have been trying to persuade Thao that we should use the Duphalac instead (which is oral, we really didn't have the time to wait). Eventually, she scrambled around the pharmacy some more and found a dosage sheet for the Duphalac, and some glycerine suppositories. (All in all, the total was like $1.50 for 6 suppositories and the equivalent of 6 infant doses of the Duphalac.) Thao and I walked back, and Shannon and I went up and administered the suppository to Vinh about 9, and by 9:05 he was starting to clear as well. Shannon and I have decided that they were probable getting too rich of a formula mix (even though it is mixed consistent with the instructions on the formula and from the orphanage), and have thinned it out some. Also, we are going to keep giving them small amounts of the Dulphalac until we are sure they are on schedule or until we can get home.

After all was settled upstairs, I took Thanh and went down to get some breakfast. (Breakfast is included with our hotel stay, and is served until 9:30.) I walked into the restaurant at 9:28, and they were starting to close up. The hostess smiled at me and said it was fine, and everyone stopped until I had eaten. I must have looked horrible, because they set a new place at a table for me, and she said that she had seen Shannon early this morning (Shannon had gone down for toast around 6 or 6:30.) I told here it had been a long night and she said she understood. She (and all of the staff) were very kind, waiting hand and foot even more than normal.

While digestive tracts were finally getting to be normal, it took a while for the kids to start to feel better. They were still fussy and irritable all morning (although Thanh already was starting to like being held much more). By the time we started to get them settled down so they were at least quiet (about 10:45), Anna called to say our CIS appointment was at 11:45 and she would be picking us up in 15 minutes. Shannon assumed she meant tomorrow, since it felt like it was at least 4pm by then. She was pretty shocked to know it was not even 11am! We scrambled around everywhere to get ourselves presentable and prepared for the kids, which of course upset the kids. Finally we got everyone situated, and were still 10 minutes late (which is actually pretty impressive I think given what state we were in all morning). Anna was very patient, and we got a taxi to go to the CIS office. Both kids were sound asleep by the time we were into the taxi of course, since there was no way that Shannon and I could get any sleep for the next several hours. (They slept all the way through until we got back to the hotel.)

Thankfully, Anna had built in some extra time for traffic and what not, and we walked into the office pretty much right on time. The officer was of course running late, so we waited for about 30 minutes. The interview was not bad, the majority of it was confirming information on our I600a application, and some brief questions to ensure that there was not any impropriety in the process. The officer seemed to regard the Vietnamese adoption process with disdain, and made it clear without directly saying so that she was not in favor of reopening the program. I'll probably write more on this subject when I get home. For now, the important part is that everything is in order (to our knowledge - it's probably just my unease about the process, but I will feel better when we have documents in hand).

Came back to the hotel and Shannon stayed with Thanh while Anna and the other family and I (and Vinh) went to buy our plane tickets for Hanoi. It was fairly unremarkable, other than it took almost 90 minutes to buy 8 plane tickets. Total cost was just under 200 USD for two tickets and both infants. So we are all set to leave tomorrow at 6pm for Hanoi. Shannon and I are both excited, but have no energy to show it. Only things left are to get the passports (Thao will deliver them at 2) and the medical reports, which apparently cannot be released without the passports issued. The Cho Ray hospital that we used apparently bends the rules a little bit due to the volume of immigration physicals they perform, but apparently the physical is not technically supposed to occur until after the passport is issued. I'm not sure from the CIS officers comments whether that is a US thing or a VN thing, but she did not seem to have a problem with it.

Back to the hotel, and Shannon was feeding Thanh. (Vinh had taken a whole bottle at the airline ticket office.) We tried to put them down at the same time to get some sleep. This was the first time that we have tried to put either one of them down without them more / less being already asleep, much less at the same time. It took about 90 minutes, but we were eventually successful and got between 4-5 hours of sleep finally. With more regular digestive tracts, they are different babies this afternoon, but they are still very itchy. The only reason I can see for this is the drier air of the air conditioned room, but unless we can find an anti-histamine there isn't much we can do. This makes them very restless all the time, especially when going down to sleep and while sleeping. (Thanh especially has been moving almost constantly as I have been writing, even though he is pretty deeply asleep. Since I am awake and aware I try to keep rocking his cradle when he starts tossing. I don't think this is actually necessary, but I would rather be safe as all of us need the rest.) I may try the pharmacy again tomorrow morning, but don't expect much luck, as I was kind of looking for a familiar product when I was there today and didn't see one. I also looked at the grocery store, but sale of OTC drugs is apparently not common / allowed outside of a pharmacy here. (OTC is kind of relative anyway, as it seems even the most rudimentary drugs must be bought through a pharmacist, even tho no prescription is necessary.)

Shannon woke me up at about 8 to mention that we were basically out of water, so I went over to the mall grocery store to get more and shopped for a little bit. Bought a couple souvenirs (although what I am really looking for is a money clip - keeping USD and Dong on the same clip is just not that practical, especailly with the volume of bills necessary for Dong.) It was near closing time for the mall (in fact, it was 15 minutes after close when I left), but the shopkeepers were still very willing to help. Only at the jewelry shops would I have had problems, as they pretty much pack up the same way our jewelry stores do with any external facing windows. I have lots of promises to come back tomorrow, as I was running out of readily accessible cash. (I had plenty in my passport holder, but was unwilling to dig under my shirt for it in the mall.) Hopefully time will allow, as there were several things I was legitimately interested in. One shop keeper was trying to haggle in order to make the sale, and saw that I had a credit card and she very excitedly kept saying 'I take Visa' (even though it was an American Express that she had seen in my money clip). I told her we would probably both be happier if I came back tomorrow and she seemed to understand, although was a little disappointed. Found a few really neat future gift ideas for the kids tho, and hopefully Shannon and I can get back there to get some of them, or we can find something similar in Hanoi.

Speaking of Hanoi and travel in general, we will be staying at the Gouman hotel that is mentioned in all our travel guides. This is a 4 star hotel and supposed to be very comfortable. (The Oscar hotel where we are staying is a 3 star, and works very well especially given the rate, but is definitely of the 3 star variety.) Reservations are already made. We are told that it is now safe to change plane reservations for return to next week. Shannon and I have not discussed exactly when we may want to return (and some of that will be at the mercy of Korean Air anyway), but I must first find the local Delta number. Hopefully there is one for Vietnam; if not, I may see if I can find someone stateside (probably Fred as he is familiar with Delta) to take care of it. As of right now, it looks like we may be home in time to get to the beach, and as I have not rebooked our airline tickets for the wedding, there is a (fairly slight) chance we may still go. Hopefully everything continues to go smoothly, but it sounds like the major in-country hurdles are taken care of, and the child hurdles we will have to deal with in transit (and if not, the earlier we are home the better in that regard, if no other reason than to get on a medical system we are familiar with).

Also, Shannon thinks Vinh may have an ear infection. He has been tugging at his ears almost since we got him on Tuesday, but has not had a fever, discharge, or basically any other symptoms. I'm hoping it is just that they aren't clearing due to congestion. They are still clearing out from the cold they had last week, and all the crying this morning did not help the matter. Regardless, hopefully this does not cause a problem flying tomorrow and if it's not already an infection, clears up before it becomes one. We have received advice that we should be feeding them at takeoff and landing to help the clear their ears, so will try that.

I think that's the major points of the day. There are a few other topics I will catch up in future entries.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Paying the Consulate

Back from the Consulate, all went well. Motorbike ride through the streets of HCMC was very interesting experience. Hanging onto the back of a motorbike, having never ridden a motorcycle and Thao can't weigh much more than 95 pounds! The experience was kind of fun now that it is over, but definitely glad I am not doing it regularly.

Also was interesting having to change modes from patient and polite (Asian mode) to persistent and polite (American mode) - At first the guard said that there was no admission today (I suspect he meant no more admissions today but it was lost in the language barrier), then after a little persistence he asked someone else who let me in and directed me to a window with no one there. After a few tries, they finally found the person who was supposed to be working the window, and it was paid without incident. Overall, pretty painless tho, as I was expecting to have to wait. Hopefully it gets lined up with our interview correctly so we can keep whatever appointment time has already been set. We were told to stay in the room and ready to go on short notice.

Medical Exam and Passport Applications

Long day today, and it isn't even over... Vinh finally fell asleep next to me after being generally cranky for the last hour, and Thanh is playing with Shannon on the bed after already having gotten up from his nap. It is still amazing, getting to know them. Their personalities are very similar, yet very distinct at the same time. Before long, I think I will be able to tell them apart by personality, and we have gotten better at by looks as well. (Some of this is due to a scratch pattern on Vinh's face that will be healed in the next day or so, however.)

Today was the medical exam and the Vietnamese passport application. We elected to pay extra for expedited passport service, which meant hiring someone to walk through the application essentially. It's about $300 each, which isn't cheap, but well worth it rather than waiting 2-3 weeks. We met the guy the facilitators hired at the Vietnamese passport agency, and filed, which amounted to me signing twice and proving that could pronounce Vinh's name correctly. (Actually, that apparently wasn't that important, as I didn't get it quite right.) Anyway, the experience was rather like waiting at any number of US government offices - sit in rows of chairs until your name is called. Since we had the expediter there, it didn't take long, and he was called on his cell phone when we were ready rather than over the loudspeaker.

Then we went to the medical exam. The hospital is a semi-open air complex, with some waiting areas inside and some outside. The doctor was very nice and understood English very well, although it took some work for him to speak it. We spoke about where we were from, and our general observations of the twins (although he was shocked to hear that we had them only about 24 hours). Their coughs are significantly better today, and the doctor agreed that is probably any number of the adjustment to A/C, allergies, and the remnants of a cold. He gave us something to give them if they should develop fevers, but said otherwise they should be fine as is and gave his medical clearance.

The drive through the city was fairly unremarkable, other than the bad air conditions and traffic. We did drive through an older part, with power and telephone lines everywhere. It looked very "Hollywood Hong Kong" if that makes any sense. I managed to get a picture (the only one of the day, it was tough to handle a camera today), but I don't think it will do justice to the effect.

When we got back to the hotel, we were told to wait for Anna. (Thao was the only person with us today. I'm guessing that Anna was doing paperwork for us at the consulate.) Anna informed us that the consulate would not accept the documentation of the boys as twins (which amounted to a statement from the orphanage saying something to the effect that they were found together, looked identical, and had similar temperaments). Therefore, we would have to pay a second I600 fee prior ($545) to our interview tomorrow or it would be canceled. Transportation is an issue to do so this afternoon, and the facilitators are not allowed into the part of the consulate where I must do so, so this "minor" change is a little nerve wracking. The facilitators must have sensed this, as Thao offered to take my by motor-scooter one way, but I will still have to navigate back by cab due to having to wait there and her having other business this afternoon. Hopefully this isn't a problem, and hopefully they take credit cards as indicated, as the extra cash things are starting to add up. I'm bringing cash as well just in case tho.

They also coached us on the interview tomorrow. We need to learn some information from the paperwork in case the CIS officer asks, such as the circumstances of abandonment. More on this after the interview.

Anna says that if the interview goes well and they grant CIS approval tomorrow, we will leave for Hanoi on Friday. If that happens, we may be home by the middle of next week. I'm certainly ready to go home, tho this has been a very whirlwind experience, and some part of me wishes it would have taken a little longer to be able to let it really sink in a little more, and experience a little more of the culture. It is a concern of the Vietnamese government (and most of at least the Asian programs) that adopted children are at least exposed to the cultures of their heritage, and this is likely the only first-hand exposure we will be able to take with us. At the same time, the twins are what is important, and I suspect when we get home that adjustment will just go that much quicker (and not just because we had a head start). Again, I speak of the middle of next week like it is tomorrow tho, and it is just the middle of this week now, so even under the perfect circumstances we will have a week to go. It also might be nice to have the weekend to spend in Hanoi, since we basically already spent a weekend here (not that we did much with it).

Thanh would like to add a few remarks:


(that is to say, he just climbed up on the keyboard). Vinh has been successfully moved to his bed. I should really remove temptation, as this big black device looks like a wonderful toy to them.

Alright, now he has lost interest. (Until I started typing again.) Both were laughing and giggling today, Vinh when I was bouncing him around in the carrier, and Thanh when Shannon was playing peekaboo. It gets easier and easier to make them grin and giggle with each passing hour, so hopefully that is another sign of increased comfort with us. They also have been babbling a little more (and we have witnessed them babbling individually). Thanh tends to say 'ba-ba-ba' and Vinh says more 'ga-ga', but they both have variations. (Coincidently, as I type this Thanh just put together a 'sentence' of 4-5 sounds, not all of which are typable...)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The First Evening

All is quiet. Thanh and Vinh apparently did not get very restful sleep in the car, as Thanh has slept for over 4 hours now, including through rearranging the room (including his cradle with him sleeping in it), room service delivery, laundry service pickup and all the associated bumping and noise. Despite being warned to be careful of room temperature, he is in a short sleeve sleeper and has kicked off the blanket. Vinh on the other hand slept for about two hours before waking up into a blood curdling yell, even louder than anything that had occurred so far today. I think it's either that he had a bad dream (maybe about two ogres taking him away on a big silver machine? :) or woke up in strange surroundings. He did not want to be held or comforted, no pacifier or bottle, or anything else until I finally started walking around the room with him. Then he fairly quickly calmed down and went back to sleep (solidly enough that I was able to get him into his crib this time). Maybe he was concerned that Thanh wasn't there and caught a glimpse of him sleeping in the other cradle, I don't know. It was reassuring to know that we could be comforting to him so soon tho. I suspect it is going to take some extra effort and special care to ensure that Vinh adjusts well. Thanh seems to be mostly oblivious and generally content, at least so far.


Well, according to the Vietnamese Government we are officially the parents of Tran Quang Thanh and Tran Quang Vinh! We went to the orphanage this morning, and all the preparation for director quirks and all was for nothing, as we met the director, signed the papers, and then finally met Thanh and Vinh. It actually seemed a little ceremonious, as the director did not speak English, so everything he said was translated and spoken rather formally. Overall, we were probably at the orphanage about 45 minutes. They had us sign a book with a note that appeared to mostly be a register of everyone that had adopted there. Other than that, we spent a little time with Thanh and Vinh before we left, and asked a few questions of the nannies, but not much actual time at the orphanage.

When we first entered the baby room, Thanh and Vinh were in adjacent cribs, and the nannies quickly scooped one up and placed them in the same crib, where they both stood there clinging to the edge rail. The cribs were stainless steel or chrome - shiny, metallic, and rather institutional looking. Not like the old Romanian orphanage photos with worn paint, but still rather disheartening that someone had to start life that way. We saw a couple of the hammocks of which we had heard (unfortunately couldn't get a good picture, but the above link shows one in the background). It appeared that the hammocks were as much as anything a way to make more crib space when they ran out of cribs. The cribs and play space had woven mats on the bottom (bamboo or palm fronds?), and while they looked very functional, they didn't look very comfortable, and definately weren't very inviting.

For me it was pretty much love at first sight. I had grown attached somewhat to the picture that had been the wallpaper on my home computer for quite a while, but pictures for the most part just don't provide enough reality for me for such a thing. Seeing them standing side by side in the crib (wearing matching outfits - of course they were going to make a challenge for us to begin with), was enough to make your heart melt. Hopefully the photo I got captured the moment pretty well (I haven't pulled any off the camera yet).

They are both sick, most likely with colds. The caretakers said they had been running a fever of 102 a couple days ago, and they have stuffy noses and rattly chests. Most likely, they are finishing getting over what they had caught, and hopefully nothing else shows up in the medical exam tomorrow. The scabies patches look like they are starting to heal, and getting into the air conditioning should help that.

Thanh and Vinh both were extremely easy going from the get go, both clinging on and accepting us holding them without a fuss. (As opposed to the girl for the other "couple" who took quite a while to calm down when first introduced. Interestingly enough, she reached for the 5 year old boy, rather than her new mother, and did not settle down with her new mother for quite a while.) They were calm and curious, looking back and forth for quite a while until we got in the van to leave. The seemed to check for one another quite a while, but that may be us adults over-reading their curiosity. we snapped a few pictures with the director and the care-givers, and left.

Once we left, we went to the Ministry of Justice office in Vung Tau for the Giving and Receiving ceremony. This was an unremarkable office on the second floor over a motorbike parking area. We went in, signed a few more papers, snapped a few more pictures, and that was it. However, Thanh and Vinh seemed to realize that the activity of the morning wasn't a joke, and both started screaming. Wow do they have powerful lungs! We tried to calm them and gave them bottles. They ate some, but they were having nothing to do with calming down. They went from shortly after we got into the MofJ office to back into the van, through 5 minutes down the road to KFC (yep, they have them here) and back into the van before finally Thanh took a pacifier and fell asleep, and Vinh followed a few minutes afterward. It was a rather interesting car ride back, as seatbelts are not standard equipment here, much less child seats. I was propped in trying to slouch in the seat so that Thanh could lie on me more than me holding him. Shannon was leaning against the van wall with Vinh tucked into her arm. It was an amazing two hours back to HCMC, with both boys soundly asleep almost all the way, but still somehow peeking out between slit eyelids from time to time (from a full sleep) to see if anything had changed.

Went back to the hotel, got pictures taken at the shop next door for the medical exam, and filled out the I600 visa application for submission to the Consulate. I think Anna or Thao was taking the application for submission yet today. They said that it has been taking a few days to get an interview rather than the week that we were expecting, so hopefully that is true. If so, it is much more likely that we will be able to return home early.

We got back upstairs and suddenly the room is full of cribs! Shannon was feeding Vinh and I was watching Thanh on the big bed while changing clothes, when suddenly he flipped over and started crawling toward Shannon's black hair brush! Talk about unexpected! (I figured that wouldn't be far away since they were already pulling up at the orphanage, but that still was not in the report that the orphanage personnel had relayed.) So far, anything black within range is automatically a toy, from socks to brushes to money clips.

We have spent almost the last two hours playing with them and getting a few pictures until I had to run out for water. (We tried to go together, but one of them did not take to the carrier, and wasn't tolerating the stroller either. Oh yeah, Thao also bought two umbrella strollers for us on the way back - they were relatively inexpensive and will probably be donated in the end.) Sometime in there, Thanh fell asleep and Shannon put him down in one crib. Vinh has been playing still, but at one point rolled over so he was wedged against my legs and also fell asleep (in like 5 seconds). Shannon tried to move him too fast tho and woke him up, so we played some more, and now he has had a bath and finally fell sleep between us on the bed. I don't think we will attempt to move him for a while.

Vinh is also babbling, and he clearly says ba-ba, and answers as well if he is in the mood. (I think Shannon said that Thanh had been too, although I have not observed this. I know I heard some when I was in the bathroom tho, but don't know who it was.) They are identical, and telling them apart is difficult so far. Right now, I can tell because Vinh has some scratches on his face (from his fingernails most likely), but obviously that will only go so far. The nannies said they mostly told because Vinh's head is flatter and Thanh's is rounder, but we haven't gotten proficient at this yet (especially because they were wearing hats all the way home). Thanh seems to be the more laid back, and more curious. I can tell that he is going to get into more than his share of trouble. Vinh seems less comfortable with the situation and seems a little more stressed by it. We have also been watching for dominant hand indicators (since identical twins should have one left hand, one right hand in the pair, this should be the sure way to always tell them apart), but have not identified them as of yet. Not surprising as I would imagine they wouldn't be that prevalent until some of the small muscle coordination develops.

Tomorrow's agenda: medical exam, and not sure what else. It's a little more reasonable start time at 8am, and I'm guessing it won't take long and that will be it for the day. Now it's 5:45pm, and I think I am going to try to sleep a little before pulling pictures off the camera. We are going to try to email some home to arrive as early morning as we can manage, but right now it's just been a very long day (pretty much 36 hours for me).

Getting Ready on Gotcha Day!

Up bright and early to be on time at 7:00a to meet Anna to go to the orphanage. I didn't sleep much last night, not sure if it was something I ate or nerves or what, but once it passed (about 4:30a) I just couldn't get comfortable. Shannon slept a little more, but I'm sure it was difficult as restless as I was. Now scrambling to charge camera batteries to make sure we get through the day as well. Mine should be fine, just being safe. Shannon's was pretty dead tho (not good planning). Hopefully an hour will do, because that's all we have.

Which brings up power here. It's kind of interesting, because we are almost positive that it is International 220v/50hz power (although there is really no way to confirm), but the outlets are "universal Edison" style plugs (two blades plus a ground pin like in the US, but with a little pin-like cutout to the outside of each blade I believe for UK style plugs as well). We spent a lot of effort selecting one power converter that was suitable for digital equipment and would work with the plane and another to switch outlet types, just to get on the plane and find out it has 110 American power, and that most of our digital equipment will just plug right in. Ah well, better to be prepared I guess. :) Interestingly enough, Shannon's CPAP will not just plug into the socket tho. It does require our little converter, even though it's "converting" Edison to Edison. I can't see any physical reason for this, but it's not just a stiff outlet or anything (I've tried several). Anyway, the fact that any DC device pretty much accepts any power worldwide and we have universal Edison sockets here is a lifesaver this morning, as it means we can charge both batteries and I can type this morning.

Shannon just got out of the shower and commented on how difficult it is to wash one's hair and keep water out of one's mouth. Apparently, this is the first time she has washed her hair since being here. I have to agree, although it's a different set of challenges for me. (I have short hair with having just gotten a haircut, but have to practically sit on my haunches to get under the shower head, creating a balance problem. She has long hair that needs conditioning.) I have to remember to look for some rinseless facial cleaner or my face is going to look like I have the measles by the time we get back.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Getting Organized

Our correct room was ready this afternoon. The desk kept trying to talk us into staying in our original room every time we asked about it, and this afternoon we finally found out that we were in an upgraded room, not waiting for an upgraded room as we thought. They gave us the option to stay, but change to the proper rate, so we looked at the other room, and decided to go with the less expensive room. After being there about 5 minutes, Shannon noticed an odor that was bothering here. (I have a lousy sense of smell normally, but my sinuses are still pretty fried from the plane air.) After trying to adjust to it for about 5 hours, Shannon went down and persuaded them to let us go back to our old room and pay the difference.

We met with Thao to go over tomorrow and give her the necessary currency for exchange and filing and all. We met the other "couple" that will be proceeding with us. The "couple" is actually a single mother with her boy (adopted from Guatemala). They were pretty out of it, as they had just arrived this morning about 10:00a and had not slept yet apparently.

Between meeting Thao, all the room switching and repacking to make the necessities available for tomorrow's orphanage trip, it killed the entire afternoon and eventing. Hopefully we can get by on the water we have tomorrow, as we did not get out to buy more and I doubt that we will have an opportunity to get more on the way.

First Action

Anna called about an hour ago (from Hanoi, she is flying here tonight) to make contact and let us know the plans for the next day. We are meeting Thao (Anna's assistant) in the lobby shortly to give her the cash necessary for the Vietnam side:
$300 - filing fee
$40 - "official fee"
$200 - translation fee
$200 - caregiver gift
$30 - stroller

The "official fee" is a complete surprise (although at least a small one). The filing fee we aren't sure if it's new or just called something else on the disclosure. The translation fee is also more, although I was kind of expecting that with two children.

Tomorrow morning, we are meeting Anna in the lobby at 7:00a to go to the orphanage - two hours to the orphanage, about 30 minutes there, then back to HCMC between 11 and 11:30 for Giving and Receiving already! I'm guessing that Anna couldn't do the orphanage today between the other couple coming in tomorrow and being in Hanoi, but got a call that the official was available tomorrow morning, so we are trying to fit the official's schedule. It's a little disappointing that we will not have more time to spend at the orphanage - depending on how it goes we may request that we can go back another "dead" day while waiting for the Consulate or something. Hopefully, we will be able to feel that we have spent enough time there tho, and it will be nice to at least feel like we made up for today.

Also, we are told that our reserved room will finally be available today. The hotel reservation system is more of a suggestion really, not unlike the major hotels in the US. They had a perfectly comfortable room available at least. (I understand that is sometimes a problem at this hotel based on the reviews online). Starting tomorrow, I think we may want the better space, however. :) Between moving rooms, finally unpacking in the new room, and rearranging for going to the orphanage tomorrow I expect the majority of the time between now and dinner, if not later, will be pretty busy.

Got the lunch buffet at the hotel. We were expecting similar to breakfast - both Asian and Western offerings. It was all Asian. Luckily, Shannon was in heaven, as they had sticky rice (they translate it 'glutinous rice' here) and some dim-sum style dumplings. The sticky rice here is much better than home if one can believe that, although it should be since it's the real thing. The buffet also had some other offerings that deviate a bit further from our comfort zone (like braised pigs feet and snails in shell) that we passed on for today.

We also paid for Internet for a quick email check. It's available at the hotel, but is pay-by-the-minute, so we hurried a bit. When we got upstairs, I did the math and found out that it cost all of $0.62 for the 12 minutes we were on! Internet is actually fairly available here (although a bit slow when accessing USA sites), but it's hard to find a place that you can sit down and get comfortable when using it, rather than standing at a kiosk (whether paid or free). There is a (French style?) coffee shop not far away that is advertising free Internet. We may check that out tomorrow, although it may be a pain to lug the laptop and the kids down there, so we may do a quick check at the hotel instead.

Monday Morning

Day two of treading water. Tomorrow we go to the orphanage, so today is just a dead day. Since we slept all day yesterday, we were wide awake about 4:30a. Finally gave up on sleeping anymore and went to breakfast right away when it opened at 6. Killed time reading and doing Sudoku, and then went shopping when the shopping area opened at 9. Went back to the same mall where we found the supermarket yesterday. Shops in the mall don't have walls the way they do in the USA. As a result, it feels like a huge, disorganized department store as you move from area to area. Any hesitation near a shop brings a shop attendant in most places. They are very attentive and very happy to show you whatever they can. Again, lots of imported brands, and some western brands that are made locally, and a good share of locally made craft type stuff (wood inlay, embroidery, etc.). We found some souvenirs, and a few gifts for the boys as they grow up. will probably go back for some other things later when we have a better handle on the trip in general (such as cash status, the boys' sizes, and luggage space).

It's hot today. It seems like about 93 already at 11:00a. The commerce areas are air conditioned, but not like home where it's so cold you instantly cool off (and are shivering after 5 minutes). It takes a while in a shop to cool off (and some you never quite get there), although it is a far cry cooler than on the street. I'm guessing that they probably turn the A/C off at night in the mall, as they are much more concerned about saving resources than we are. I would not equate this necessarily with conservationism however due to the air and water quality.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday Evening

Wound up sleeping most of the day. We woke about about 6:45 and went out in search of water. The area we are in feels a lot like a Vietnamese Times Square, with uniformed security guards personnel (not sure if they are police or the equivalent of security guards) frequently visible on the street. Crossing streets is very interesting with the high traffic and lack of traffic controls. Given the drivers awareness that I mentioned last night, you can pretty much just wade right in regardless of the traffic and they will avoid you, but it still takes a lot of nerve to do so! We hesitated during a particularly heavy cluster of traffic, and one of the police / guards came from the corner without a word and waded right in to help us more or less escort us across, even though we would have been happy to wait a few seconds for traffic to clear. This took about 10 seconds, so it's not like we were even having trouble crossing!

Our hotel was out of currency for exchange (it is Sunday), so we found a currency changer and exchanged $100... At the current exchange rate, minus about a 2.5% exchange fee, we got 1,570,000 VN Dong. Talk about an exchange difference! Still getting used to the math to do the exchange, since it's about 160 Dong per cent (not exactly even math). The exchanger had free Internet, so took a quick opportunity to email home. Not sure if the etiquette will allow us to use it without doing other business there, so we will see. Also won't allow us to upload files, so we will have to find other Internet when we want to email photos regardless.

After that, we went in search of water. The hotel provides two bottles a day, which are about 1/3 liter, not nearly enough, and with sleeping today we did not get room service to replace what little we get. It is just understood that the tap water is not drinkable unless boiled. (I suspect it is the same in Korea, as the drinking fountains in the airport had signs saying that it was safe to drink.) Regardless, we have been warned to be careful taking showers, to drink bottled water, and to be careful of fruits and vegetables that may have been washed in tap water. I'm pretty sure the water served at the hotel restaurant would be OK, but we are still being careful even about that.

So we found the shopping area that is about a block from the hotel. It has a "supermarket" which is much more akin to a very small (and crowded) Super Target. Groceries, luggage, hardware, clothing, perfume, you name it! We spent about $3 on 9 liters of bottled water, much cheaper than the US. Plenty of familiar brands and products (such as Pepperidge Farms cookies), but those seem to be about the same price as in the US. (Not really surprising.) Found some bagged candies that are six months out of season in the USA and some other products that are not available to us in the USA anymore, so kind of wonder what route exactly they took to get here. Also walked by a vendor selling movies, including "Ocean's 13," which just released to the movie screens last weekend! Needless to say, we will not be buying movies here (not that we planned to).

Just got back from dinner. The restaurant in the hotel is pretty good. We got a complimentary meal upon check in, so we used it tonight. We had:
- ceasar salad (which neither of us ate much of - combination of not yet being in cycle for the travel and a little concern about the water)
- minestrone soup
- fettuccine Alfredo
- fruit plate of pineapple, watermelon, and a local fruit (I think dragon fruit)
Everything was good and the service was very prompt and courteous.

Shannon's addiction to trash TV is even fulfilled here. She managed to find "Fear Factor" in a local language! (We don't think it was Vietnamese or Chinese, but couldn't tell for sure.) TV also has HBO in English. All the "comforts" of home I guess...


We are in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)!

Last night we met some people traveling our same Delta flight and connecting through to HCMC as well. Talked briefly, and bumped into them a couple times on the way through Incheon airport. (The were flying coach, so they couldn't get into the lounge, or we might have talked more; we needed someplace a little less hectic for a little while tho.) It was a party of 6 - we talked to one woman about our age who was really excited for us, and an older man and woman. The man said they were from Virginia, but was obviously mostly (or all) Vietnamese. He spoke with a very interesting accent that was half Vietnamese, half Virginia drawl... I'm guessing he learned English there. He warned us to be especially wary of the children when we were on the streets - many of the street children survive by picking pockets apparently. Kind of a stark reminder of one reason why we are doing this in the first place.

Clearing Immigration and Customs was unexpectedly efficient and uneventful. Immigration just typed the info from our forms into the computer, checked the photos on our passports about 4 times, and stamped us. Then we claimed luggage and they just x-rayed it. I think the lady running the x-ray was mostly asleep... The hotel representative was right on time, even though we had landed early and had cleared customs in about 10 minutes, so his driver was not expecting us for another 20 minutes at least. He was nearby, so we didn't even have to wait much for that tho.

Not sure what to make of the air quality yet; the HCMC airport was very bad (smelled like a full out smoking lounge all the way through, although they had separated smoking rooms). One we got outside and into the car, we didn't notice as much, although several moped drivers were wearing surgical masks or bandannas. Those were by far the minority, but were frequent enough to be notable. The hotel seems fine, and the hotel restaurant is non-smoking. I wasn't really expecting there to be any sort of designation actually.

The drive was an interesting experience - probably 60% of the passengers travel by moped, with 2-3 people on each (one even had 4!). Children get the front seat, and learn very early (like 2 apparently) to hang on. (Picture here.) Road rules don't apply to the mopeds (including lane markers and one way streets!), and don't apply much more to cars. Everyone watches out for everyone else, and doesn't expect any more space than what their vehicle physically occupies. Not many traffic controls; in a 20 minute trip I think there were only 4 stoplights. Everyone just keeps moving fairly smoothly, probably averaging about 20 MPH, which is actually not bad considering that you have very little wait time for stoplights (and when considered opposed to home where you average 30-40 when you are moving, but have to stop for a light every 5 feet.)

First night was pretty uneventful. We were pretty exhausted by the time we got into the room (about 11:00p). We both showered and were asleep by 11:30p. The streets are crowded and noisy here, so the city noises were similar to NYC several years ago before they started enforcing horn restrictions (incessant honking, although the honking means much closer to "I'm here, watch out" rather than cursing at each other). When I woke up about 4:30a, all was silent tho. I'm not sure if HCMC has a curfew or not, but it was almost eerie considering what we had fallen asleep too.

The sun came up about 5:30a and I was awake... All in all, I got about 9 hours of sleep in the last 36 hours, so that's not actually all bad considering.

We haven't left the hotel yet, but the city from our room looks totally different under daylight than it did last night. Nguyen Hue Boulevard is a tree lined street without a huge amount of traffic. I understand that we are more/less in the tourist district. The people at breakfast seemed to be about half Western looking, half Asian looking, so that would corroborate with us being in the tourist area. Didn't notice anyone else speaking English as language in choice in the whole restaurant (caught some German, and another Germanic language that wasn't German), which was a little interesting as well.

Breakfast at the hotel is buffet style, with Asian and Western commingled right side-by-side. (One steam tray had fried rice and noodles, the next one had bacon and sausage.) They also had a person making omelets, right next to a person making a made-to-order Vietnamese soup of some kind. The mix of cultures is pretty interesting.

When we got back from breakfast (about 9:00 or 9:15) there was already a note from our co-facilitator with original copies of the individual pictures we already had, and letting us know that we would not be going to the orphanage until Tuesday. I'm guessing this is because there is another couple coming on on Monday that is going to Vung Tau as well, as they are trying to get us on the same schedule. While understandable, it's still disappointing, as it is one more day delay and one more day of waiting here. Hopefully we don't wind up needing that day in order to beat the upcoming Independence Day holiday.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

See ya!

We're outta here. We're finishing up the last bit of packing right now, and getting our documents together as well. I doubt I'll have time to write again before we leave.

If you want to keep in touch, use to communicate.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dan and I had the carpets cleaned in every room in the house with carpet (minus his office and our bedroom). We had that done today. :-)

Yesterday/this morning we finished painting the nursery. I'm so sad (burst into tears sad) because we tried to stamp dragonflies on the walls and it didn't work. *cries some more* This afternoon we went and bought two cribs and two mattresses. We spent $915.81, including the "Twins discount" at Cribs 4 Life. The cribs are nice...very basic, but will convert all the way to full size beds. I didn't really care if they did that or not, but it's a nice enough feature I suppose. We also bought two awesome dragonfly wall art hangy things. We'll put one over each crib. I'm excited about that. Dan is currently building the second crib (he did the first one earlier), and then we will start moving furniture around in the room and get it all set up. Sadly, I do not have my linens yet (valence and dust ruffle). Heck, I don't have sheets either! But furniture is a great place to start!

This evening I went to a baby shower for my friend Julie who just adopted a little baby girl. It was nice to spend some time with her and several other girlfriends I dont' see often. I got to share pictures of the boys with friends, and let everyone know that we leave in less than a week. I got lots of offers of help, and I SO want the help, but I don't even know what I need help with, so I just said "Thank you", and that I would call.

Last night I sent an e-mail out to pretty much my entire contact list letting them know about the adoption, and our traveling. Some people didn't even know we had started a process, so it's been fun to get e-mails from people wishing us luck and offering prayers.

My friend Jennfound me an awesome "Twins" shopping cart cover cover and mailed it to me. It will work perfectly for our Costco trips! Thanks so much!

Okay, so this wasn't short and sweet. Oh well.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I have the most amazing friends? Because I totally do, and I totally take all of them/you for granted. If I don't say thank you enough, know that I'm thanking you in my head about a million times a day.