Dispatch 12

Date: June 26, 2001. Tuesday.

Location: Guangzhou

Greetings again from Guangzhou. This will be our last dispatch from within China as we leave on Wednesday, less than 24 hours from this writing. We have enjoyed China immensely, but we both agree that we are ready to get home and establish our new routines with our new family member, Elle.

Tuesday started off early with the trip to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, which is practically next door to the White Swan. We were ready for what we had expected would be the last major hurdle to our adoption process, the Big Interview. This is the interview that required all the paperwork: three years worth of complete tax returns, notarized letter of employment plus paystubs, more documents than you could shake a stick at.

It was positively anticlimactic. It was a breeze. Apparently, there are new rules in place that simplify the paperwork. Once we got to the interview room we were instructed to take all the financial papers OUT of our stack and set them aside — they weren’t particularly interested in them after all. After a few minutes we found ourselves being asked to raise our right hands and swear that we knew what we were getting ourselves into.

I suppose we do as well as any parents know what they’re getting themselves into, so we swore yes. That’s it. Elle’s visa is to be issued Wednesday afternoon just a few hours before our scheduled departure.

Back outside, Robert took this photo of himself and Elle in front of the American Consulate sign. Here’s to the newest resident of the USA, soon to be the newest citizen.

Outside the American Consulate in Guangzhou.

We all repaired to the hotel for the group photo sessions. The core of our Jiangxi group was 14 families, and a few others joined us along the way making for a very large group of people. We had a blast, got to know each other pretty well, and have enjoyed our time with all of our new children. This photo is taken in the lobby of the White Swan with the waterfall in the background.

The CHI Jiangxi group.

Our beloved group leader is Helen, an extraordinary woman if ever there was one. Helen has shepherded so many CHI families through China that I expect she must have lost count by now. Every detail is always seen to even if we must endure a bit a madness before it is all settled. Our hats go off to Helen the Wonderful!

Helen Hu, our CHI coordinator.

Meanwhile, our friend Betty has been struggling to get her visa application accepted. She had been caught up in a catch-22 situation that involved translation misunderstandings, missing papers, and confused officials. Her husband in New York had been working tirelessly to resolve the situation from the opposite side of the globe, and combined with our efforts on the ground in Guangzhou somehow things got straightened out. After several days of telling her that she was not allowed inside the Consulate, the guards finally acknowledged that she was to be allowed inside in a few minutes. This photo was taken after Betty came back from the window with the good news that she was to be admitted. Success at last!

Betty Wong about to get her visa.

We went inside the compound with her, and her business was finished within 10 minutes. They finally accepted her papers and allowed her to pay the appropriate fees. Then, they told her to come back in two hours to pick up her visa. To pass the time, we all went shopping for original art. Though not a resident of Guangzhou, Betty knew what questions to ask, and of whom, and had located the city proper’s art sector.

Most of the people on the adoption groups are aware that there are little shops next to the White Swan that sell all manner of arts and crafts at seemingly good prices (good when you consider what they translate to in American dollars!). However, our friend Betty asked around and learned that the locals go to an area of Guangzhou called Wen De Lu Street (win day lou). This is a one hour walk from the White Swan, so we piled into a taxi for a twenty-minute, 15 yuan ride.

Yowza! Wen De Lu street is THE place to go if you’re looking to buy original art while in Guangzhou.

There is shop after shop filled with fine quality watercolor and oil paintings by local and nationally known Chinese artists. With Betty’s invaluable help both in translating and in actual haggling, we were able to come away with two large watercolors from the shop in the photograph below. Try to bring a Chinese-speaking friend to impart what it is you want, because there’s very little room in the shops to display stock; the majority of it seems to be squirreled away in storage, though the shop owners always appear to have a detailed knowledge of just where specific kinds of paintings can be seized upon (Susannah has seen this happen over and over again). Betty helped us explain what we wanted (Susannah had been casing Chinese watercolors for days in all the galleries she passed in China and had a very good idea about subjects, sizes, and brushwork styles). The proprietor nodded, thought a moment, then pushed a ladder up to the wall, clambered up to the ceiling, where she pushed aside a tile, climbed headfirst into the recess, and emerged a few moments later with a stack of paintings that were exactly right . If it’s original art you want, go take a look for yourself. And a buying note from Susannah: Most shops’ prices are for the painting alone, even if it’s currently displayed in a frame; they anticipate rolling it up and sending it home with you in a sturdy box-tube, which is lightweight and can go on the plane as carry-on. However, some may be willing to sell you the frame–or a frame–as well. If you can find any way to buy both frame and mat and get everything home somehow, by all means do it–even if it means eliminating the glass because of the weight. Picture glass is cheap in the States; framing and matting are expensive. Susannah was able to buy small original peasant paintings WITH frames and mats for less than $8.00 US each. No way that could be matched in the US! One of the tricks is to find a shop that already has paintings that size matted and framed; the proprietor can sometimes be induced to substitute the painting you want for the one that’s currently in the frame. Also, don’t hesitate to bargain–or have your Chinese friend do that chore. Betty, an elegant, demure woman, engaged in a genteel-sounding three to four minute conversation in Chinese that was a marvel to behold in terms of facial expressions and tones of voice before she announced that the owner’s “best price” was another 20% lower than it had been originally–and the original price for TWO paintings had been a quarter of what Susannah had been quoted for ONE on Shamian Island!

Shopping for art on Wen De Lu street.

We hopped back to the hotel with our treasures, and Betty went back to the Consulate where she did in fact pick up her visa. This was an expecially good thing since her flight to New York was already booked; she is on her way as of this writing. We look forward to hanging out with her and her husband Willi in New York City.

As for us, we went back to the hotel for a last evening together in Guangzhou and a final celebratory dinner with our traveling group. A note to the vegetarians of the world: Chinese restaurants don’t seem to believe you when you say “no meat.” We understand that they simply take the offending dish back to the kitchen and pick out the visible PIECES of meat (who knew that you couldn’t cook a dish described in the menu as “snow peas” without larding it with unadvertised pork bits?). If ever we come to China again, we’re going as Travel Buddhists–that apparently works. They’ve got some respect for karma here, if not for dietary preferences.

We’re spending Wednesday buying a few last-minute items, replenishing our supply of diapers, packing our bags and changing some money. The next dispatch will be from home base, New York City, USA. Thanks for coming along for the ride. We hope you’ve enjoyed it at least a little bit as much as we have.

At the White Swan.

See you in New York,

Robert & Susannah & Eleanor / http://eleanorjean.com