Vietnam and Adam

My cousin, Mark, adopted a baby boy, Adam, from Vietnam. Earlier this year, he asked me to make the trip with him when he traveled to get the baby. Below is an account of our amazing journey:

With our bags all packed, the airport limo arrived 6:00 AM, Tuesday morning, August 28th for our trip to Logan airport. At check-in, we were told that Mark’s bag was overweight by about 5 pounds. So, we were shuffling clothing from one bag to another…with one dress shoe in one bag and the other dress shoe in another bag…each bag weighed in exactly at 50 pounds, the allowed weight!

We left Boston at 9:00 AM and headed to Chicago. After a brief layover in Chicago, we were on the next leg of the flight for Hong Kong. That was about an 11 or so hour flight. We had horrible seats…we were in the middle isle, which was four seats across…Mark and I were in the two middle seats with an Asian on each end. Now, neither Mark nor I sleep well on planes and we were hoping to change seats with one of the men, so that we would have an isle seat. Wouldn’t you know, that we had no sooner left the gate and each one of these men were asleep!!! We nicknamed them “book ends”. Whenever one woke up, it was “OK, let’s go walk around”.

On this United flight, the projector didn’t work, so we couldn’t watch any movies. Plus, my light didn’t work, so I couldn’t read…it was going to be a long, long flight! Mark got assertive and asked if we could be moved. We actually ended up with a couple of great seats…too bad for the lady that had 3 seats to herself!

We had a four hour layover in Hong Kong. It was Wednesday, August 29th at 9:30PM when we arrived to Ho Chi Minh (or as the locals call it, Saigon). The trip took a total of about 25 hours. Peter, who works for the Mandala Adoption Agency that Mark worked with, was at the airport to meet us.

The short ride in from the airport was interesting. One thing you notice right off is the heat and humidity at 9:30 at night! The streets were alive. Shops were open, restaurants were full and everywhere, were motor scooters.

After checking in at the Kimdo, Peter said that he would meet us in the lobby at 9:30AM for the Greeting and Receiving ceremony. That is where Mark actually receives Baby Adam! According to our itinerary, we were going to have Thursday morning to rest and then have the Greeting and Receiving on Thursday afternoon….surprise!

The Kimdo Hotel was beautiful. Each morning there was an amazing buffet for breakfast. We usually ate a great breakfast, had a light snack for mid-day and then a dinner out at night. We tried various foods at the breakfast buffet. They had wonderful fruits…papaya, pineapple and dragon fruit. Some of the more unique dishes that we tried were congee, a type of rice porridge that is pretty bland tasting. I was going to mix some chopped nuts in mine, but the chef said that the salted cabbage would be better. At 8:00AM, I wasn’t that adventurous to try salted cabbage in my congee. Another surprise that I had one morning was their “hard boiled egg”. They had them displayed very nicely on a platter each morning. They were cut into quarters with the shell still attached, which I found interesting. Plus, the yolk was a funky yellow…very bright, unlike the yolks of our hard boiled eggs. So, this one morning, I decided to try the egg. One bite of the egg white and I just about choked…it was like eating a tablespoon of pure salt. It wasn’t a hard boiled egg at all, but a preserved egg that had been soaked in salt for 30 days…another food to mix with the congee or possibly their soup that they ate for breakfast. For the most part, I stuck to fruit, omelets, cheese, bread or cereal, yogurt and peanut butter for breakfast!!!

I don’t think Mark slept a wink Wednesday night in anticipation of getting his son the next morning. We arrived at the orphanage around 10:00 AM. The director was there as well as Peter and Kevin, another Mandala employee, Mark and myself. Shortly after we arrived, in came Adam with his care-giver. Words can’t begin to describe how wonderful Adam is. The picture says it all…he is such a good baby, who hardly ever cried. He has this cute little cough to let you know that he wants to eat and one has about 30 seconds to give him his bottle or else! Other than that, he is a very easy going baby. Mark and I trudge all over Vietnam with Adam in a “Baby Bjorn”. He just went along taking in the sights!

After receiving Adam, there were several appointments and meetings that Mark had to go to. The most important was the official adoption of Adam. It was at a government office that looked very much like the Department of Motor Vehicles for us. At one point, we were called into an office that had lovely furniture and flowers. This is where it became official for Mark and Adam to be father and son!

We spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City getting all the paperwork and meetings taking care of. August 31, we flew to Hanoi in order to get a visa for Adam to return to the states with us. That appointment was with the US government and wouldn’t happen until Tuesday, Sept 4th. Sept 2, is the Vietnamese Independence Day. Due to this holiday, the rates at the hotel were increased. There were 2 other families from the states who were adopting as well. It was decided among everyone to look for a less expensive hotel….the Kimdo was very nice, but a little frilly for what we all needed. After looking at the website, they all agreed on the Army Hotel, which is actually run by the Vietnamese army, in Hanoi. The website said that it had recently been renovated in 2002, the pictures looked nice and it had a nice pool, which appealed to the families with toddlers.

Oh my gosh, what a mistake!!! Mark and I aren’t quite certain where the pictures came from, but it certainly wasn’t our room! It was like going from the Ritz Carlton to an Econo Lodge! In the bathroom, the sink stopper didn’t work…a disadvantage when you are trying to sterilize baby bottles! The tub was set in such a way, that when you took a shower, the water ran along the outside of it and drained on the floor. So, to remedy that, we took “European showers”….squatting and wetting down, turning the water off, soaping up and then squatting to rinse off!!!

We had two lamps in the room….one with a dimmer switch on it that was like a strobe light. The other lamp had a very cracked lampshade and kept blowing light bulbs. On the third bulb, I took the whole lamp to the front desk and told them that it was broken, not to put a new light bulb in it, but to bring us a new lamp. They finally understood and we got a new lamp.

The towels and sheets were very clean, but were very frayed and the sheets had holes in them. The staff were very reserved, to put it politely…I thought that they were actually in the army, and were mad that this was their assignment. I honestly don’t know, but there were very few smiles from the staff. I won’t begin to describe the baby crib they brought in! Thank goodness, we had an extra blanket for extra padding for Adam!

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend anyone stay at the Army Hotel in Hanoi! Even the brochures made us laugh…the pictures made the rooms look wonderful…I wonder if those rooms were even in the hotel!

Tuesday, the visa meeting happened and the visa was granted that afternoon. This was unusual, as usually it took a day for the visa to be granted. Our flight was scheduled for Friday, Sept 7th, but Mark was able to get it changed to the next day, Wed.

Our flight left at 11:30PM. The airport was a wild, wild experience. There were a group of men going to Korea to work. All of their relatives, and I mean all, were there to say good-bye. They were gathered around the airline ticket desk…..so much so, that we thought that we would never get through in time to make our flight. Once we got through the crowd, however, it was no time to get our boarding passes. As the group of workers left to go through security, so did their well-wishes. By the time we went through security, the crowd had dispersed….thank goodness!

So, our flights were Hanoi to Seoul, Korea. We landed at 3:00 AM and had a four hour layover. Seoul to Tokyo was the next leg of the trip. In Tokyo, I have a dear friend, Michiko, who I met 23 years ago in England. Michiko tried to come visit us while we were in Hanoi, but it just didn’t work out. So, when I learned that I had a layover in Tokyo, I was hoping against hope that we would be able to see each other. Sadly, it didn’t happen, but I was able to talk with her. That short conversation has made us pledge to see each other in 2008!!!

Tokyo to Chicago was the most challenging part of the flight. One of the other families was traveling with us and they had a 17 month toddler, Leyna. Leyna liked to be active and got very frustrated when the “fasten seat belt” sign went on and she couldn’t walk around!! At one point, she got so overtired and just fought going to sleep. Adam had his moments as well…it is a long, long flight! When the plane touched down, my cousin, Mark…the pediatrician, looked at me and said “Well, that wasn’t fun!!” I had to laugh…it wasn’t fun….I equated it to the labor one goes through in order to have the results of a beautiful baby!

The final flight of Chicago to Boston, Adam slept the whole way. We landed in Boston at 6:30PM, Thursday night, after roughly 33 hours of traveling. I must say, that for the most part, Adam was a trooper….shoot, it was a long flight for an adult, let alone a 6 month old!!!

Waiting for us at the gate were Christopher and big brother, Lucas who is 7 years old. Lucas, is their son, whom they adopted from Cambodia. He was all dressed up in his suit to meet his little brother, whom he promptly nick-named “Addie”.

At last report, everyone was settling in nicely. Christopher took time off to be home with Adam and Mark has until the first of October, before he goes back to work. Lucas adores Adam and wants to teach him everything. He is a great big brother.

It was an amazing adventure. I loved being with Adam….everyone that saw us just assumed that I was the mom…it was easier to go along with it than to try to explain in Vietnamese no less! A couple of times, I began to question our choice of not having a child….then, after being around the toddlers in the group….ha, I knew I knew we had made the right decision!!!

For the most part, the Vietnamese were so excited when they saw Adam with us. They would pat his arm or leg and say “Lucky Baby”….our response was “No, lucky us!”

Thanks Mark, Chris, Lucas and David for allowing me to be part of one of the most memorable journeys I think I will ever have!

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