Tag Archive for: Hangzhou

That was the subject line in the email that we sent to family and friends after we received our daughter, Gracie.  I wrote about our adoption journey up the point of seeing Gracie for the first time in person and you can read Part One if you like.

Well, I believe I left the story at the point of the elevator opening and seeing the orphanage officials walking out with Gracie in their arms.  Although I recognized her instantly, there was something different in her appearance….she had no hair.  Well to be honest, she had very little hair…..it was obvious that her head had recently been shaved.  It really didn’t matter, I was just so happy to see her finally in person.

The nanny from the orphanage walked over and handed Gracie to me….

adoption journey

Gracie was wearing the outfit that we had sent her a month ago.   She was obviously not sure what was going on.  She had spent over 3 hours in a car in order to get to the hotel we were staying at and it very well may have been the first time she had ever been in a car.  

adoption journey

We each spent a little time checking each other out.  Gracie had never seen anyone who wasn’t Asian before.  She did not try to get away from me and she did not cry.  She was just taking it all in.

adoption journey

Her dad and I were just so thrilled to finally have her in our arms.  But, Gracie probably thought I was the strangest person she had ever seen….blond hair, blue eyes, white skin and a big nose (more about that later in the story).

We spent some time there with the orphanage director and her nanny asking questions through a translator.  It was obvious that they were happy she was being adopted.  Her nanny was eager to show us how Gracie could walk a couple of steps, which she did, but she fell down after taking 3 steps….her club foot made it difficult for her to walk normally.  

I was eager to take Gracie back with us to our hotel room and as we said our goodbyes to the orphanage officials, her nanny shed a few tears.  Back in our room, I took off her clothes which were much too hot for the month of August.  She was in good condition and only had a little heat rash behind her neck.  Up until this point, I had been the one to hold her, but now it was her new dad’s turn.

adoption journey

As happy as we were, I could only imagine the turmoil of feelings that Gracie must have been experiencing.  She had just been dropped off by the only caretakers she had ever known and left in the care of complete strangers who looked so different from anyone she had ever seen.

adoption journey

As I held her that first night and fed her a bottle, Gracie reached up and grabbed my nose and held onto it for a few minutes.  I was surprised at first…I had never thought of my nose as abnormally big. But then when I thought about it, she had probably never seen a nose that sticks out – most Asian noses are somewhat flat.  Soon after she let go of my nose she went right to sleep.  

adoption journey

After waiting 15 months of waiting, we just wanted to keep holding her that night, but we finally put her in the crib.  Guess what?  She slept for 11 hours 🙂

We had to spend a few days in Hangzhou, which is the provincial capital, in order to finalize the adoption in China and get her Chinese passport so that she could travel to the US.

The next morning, Gracie woke up a little disoriented, but was otherwise happy to get her bottle of rice cereal.  We were rather shocked to discover that at 20 months of age, she had only eaten milk and rice cereal. 

We gave her a bath and I finally got to put on one of the dresses that I had bought for her.  We spent the morning filling out paperwork and finalizing her adoption.  Then a trip to get her passport photo as well as our first family photo was the extent of what we did this day.  It was important to spend a lot of one on one time with her to help with the bonding process.  At this stage, she was more likely to want to be with an Asian person because they looked more familiar and so our guide took care to stay in the background for all of us in the group.  She spent much of the day working on our paperwork.  

The next morning, something special happened.  The kids were on the floor playing while us mothers were talking as a group nearby.  Gracie’s almost bald head was popular with the other newly adopted kids in our group because they liked rubbing her head.

adoption journey

Well, Gracie stood up on her own and walked a few steps towards me and then crawled the rest of the way over and stretched out her arms to me so that I could hold her.  It was the first sign that she was beginning to bond with me…it made me want to cry with happiness.

Our remaining days in Hangzhou were spent applying for an expedited passport and then sight-seeing while waiting for the passport to be ready.

adoption journey

We were very fortunate to be staying in Hangzhou as the area is so beautiful.  We toured West Lake.

West Lake

Yes, that is a golden water buffalo in the lake.

West Lake
West Lake

Guess what we found next to the lake….


Gracie sleeping in my arms at Starbucks.


We were having a wonderful time touring around West Lake, but Gracie evidently wasn’t too interested as she promptly fell asleep…


Our adoption agency organized a tour of a local orphanage (not Gracie’s) that they ran.  I had been looking forward to visiting an orphanage since Gracie’s was too far away for us to visit.  This orphanage was the role model of what China wanted other orphanages to follow and so they often sent employees there to be trained.  My husband stayed back at the hotel with Gracie because we were afraid that she would be alarmed at finding herself in another orphanage.

our hotel room

Fun with dad playing on the computer in our hotel room.

This was a very special visit and I saw many precious children.  You can click on the photos below to enlarge if you like.


This little albino boy was adopted 2 years later.

albino boy

The babies in cribs were lying on bamboo mats to help keep them cool.

 lying on bamboo mats

Precious little girl.

little girl
little girl

 Have you ever seen so much hair?

little girl

 The orphanage doctor showing our guide a little girl who was failing to thrive.


 Playroom (we had to wear booties over our shoes to keep the floor clean.

**Unbeknown to me, my future son is in the yellow/green/red jumper. 

Chen Bo

 I met a little friend…Chen Bo who wanted me to stop taking pictures so that he could crawl into my lap.

Chen Bo

Saying goodbye….

I had a wonderful time visiting the orphanage and my heart ached for all of the children who had no parents.  But, I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and be with Gracie again.


Gracie quickly began to bond with us and became more extroverted.  She began walking more and was able to stay on her feet longer.  She loved it when her dad would ‘chase’ her down the hotel hallway.  *You can see that she walked on the ankle of her right foot.  It was amazing to me that she could walk at all.

We were enjoying our time in China very much.  We did seem to attract attention wherever we went because foreign tourists did not travel to this area often, so we encountered stares almost everywhere we went.  The Chinese people were not being rude….it is not considered rude to stare in China.  Also, the culture is more of a inter-dependent culture, where our western culture focuses more on individualism.  As a result, it was normal for Chinese women to come up and make sure that our children were dressed appropriately for the weather (they are affectionately known as the ‘clothing police’ in the adoptive community).  

great time shopping

 I had a great time shopping.

I tried to ignore the stares though.

The Chinese people we met were extremely curious about why we had Chinese children with us.  The fact that Europeans and Americans adopt from China was not well know inside of China.  They were courteous and wished us well when we explained that we were adopting Gracie.  Because of their inter-dependent culture, sometimes strangers would come up to Gracie and hold her club foot in their hands in order to figure out what was wrong with it.  Now, in America, I would have politely told them not to touch my daughter.  But, it is different in China where they were genuinely concerned and it was not considered rude to take matters into their own hands to find out what was wrong with her.

One older woman scolded me when we were walking with a sleeping Gracie in her stroller.  You see, Gracie’s head had rolled forward and the stroller did not adjust back, so there was nothing that I could do.  Well, while this well-intentioned woman was scolding me, I just picked up Gracie’s head and put it back up and then it promptly rolled forward again and I just shrugged my shoulders and walked on 😉

enjoyed in China

I must admit at this point, that I am not an adventurous eater.  But, I did find many foods that I enjoyed in China.   Not this one though….my husband is the adventurous eater in our family and enjoyed eating a little bit of everything.

wonderful dinner

Our group ate a wonderful dinner at restaurant and we were so excited to have Gracie try some of the different food (she had been limited to rice cereal up to this point).  She seemed to love the peas and kept eating them.  We were so happy to see her eating other foods.  Later that night as my husband was leaning over to put her into the crib, a pea dropped out of her mouth.  Further exploration found over 17 peas stuck inside of her cheeks.  

Because Gracie had spent her life in an orphanage to this point, she was delayed in many areas which we had expected.  One of the problems we discovered was that she did not know how to swallow solid foods.  

Hangzhou airport

Our travel group ready to leave from the Hangzhou airport.

Our time in Hangzhou was coming to a close and the next part of our trip was upcoming.  I was a little nervous about how Gracie would do on an airplane, but she did very well.  We said goodbye to our guide and flew with the rest of our group to Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) in Southern China.

Some of you may remember me mentioning that I am a wimp about hot weather when it is coupled with high humidity.  Well, when we landed in Guangzhou, it was even more hot and humid then where we had come from.  But, it was so beautiful!  * It smelled like the ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland.

Shamian Island

We stayed on a small island in Guangzhou known as Shamian Island.  Filled with European Colonial architecture and beautiful, formal gardens, I couldn’t wait to explore more.

Shamian Island

The United States Consulate was located on the island at the time and this portion of the trip was focused on completing our immigration paperwork and securing a visa for Gracie so that we could travel to the States.

Our hotel

Our hotel was a 5-star hotel and the primary place that adoptive parents stayed while waiting for their child’s visa.  It was beautiful inside….

Our hotel

I remember walking into our hotel room and telling my husband that we had better enjoy this stay because we were highly unlikely to ever stay in another place as nice.  *The foreign exchange rate at the time made it very affordable to stay there ($1 = 8 yuan).


In our new hotel, Gracie played for hours with the plastic spoon and cover of my airplane lunch – she was absolutely fascinated.  We were coming to see what her delays where.  She would spend time in front of the mirror and would tap it with her fingers.  It was obvious that she had never seen herself in a mirror before.   She also liked to eat Cheerios, but she could not pick them up with her thumb and forefinger. **A few years later a visit to her orphanage showed us how deprived she had been of sensory input.  I will write more about that at a later time.

We enjoyed our time on Shamian Island with walks, shopping and hanging out with the wonderful people in our group.

One afternoon when we returned to our room in the hotel, we saw that Gracie had received a surprise gift….

Barbie doll

Yes, that is a Barbie doll.  Notice she has a Chinese baby she is adopting.  All adoptive families receive a complimentary “Going Home Barbie” and each year there is a new version.


Our hotel had new hallways for Gracie to explore with her dad.


And to be chased again….

All to soon, our time in China was coming to an end.  Our group gathered in the lobby to take a picture of all of our adopted girls.


Gracie is on the left.

Two of the girls had been adopted a few years before.

It is amazing how strongly you bond with other families when you share an experience like this.  Most of us are still in contact with each other 7 years later.

I was so excited to be going home to my other daughters and couldn’t wait to introduce the entire family to Gracie.  The flight was a long one and Gracie did well for the most part.  We landed in Los Angeles and went through immigration in the airport.  Once we handed them her visa – she was an American citizen.

Just outside of immigration was a bunch of people just waiting to see Gracie for the first time and welcome her to our family.  

All of a sudden this little girl who had been abandoned as a baby, not only had a mom and dad, but two sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles waiting outside the gates to welcome her to the family.


If you would like to read more of what happened after we adopted Gracie, you can read Part 3 if you like. This post is already so long and although many of you mentioned that you didn’t mind the length of my previous post, you probably would like a little break from reading 🙂

I would like to thank you all for your kind comments.  Gracie has enjoyed having me read your comments to her.   She has been such a miracle in our lives and I enjoy sharing her story whenever I can. 

For many of you, the term “Gotcha Day” may be unfamiliar.  It was to me a few years ago.  But now, that term means a lot to me and reminds me of the joy that entered into my life on that day.  For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, I mostly write about gardening subjects but occasionally I do share a bit about my personal life, especially when it concerns my kids. 

I would like to share with you a special story of an event that happened in my life 7 years ago.  I promise that I will include pictures of beautiful landscapes and gardens as they have a part in the story.

Gotcha Day

On a Friday morning, just over 7 years ago – my husband and I had just woken up and were looking forward to leaving for our trip to Ireland and the United Kingdom that evening.   But, there was another reason that we woke up filled with anticipation….we were due to receive a phone call that would change our lives.  

We were waiting for a call from our adoption agency telling us about our new daughter.  Fifteen months earlier, we had made the decision, along with our two biological daughters, to adopt a little girl from China.  And so we dove into the paperwork and necessary preparations in order to adopt a little girl.  This phone call would put a face on the child that we had envisioned in our hearts for over a year.

I knew that she would have almond shaped eyes, light brown skin and dark hair, but I could hardly wait to hear about the little girl that China had matched us with.  That morning, found us in our pajamas, nervously waiting for the phone to ring.  It seemed like it would never ring, but then it did!  It turns out it was a salesman….talk about a let down 😉  Thankfully, it soon rang again and we were hearing the wonderful details about our new daughter.

Her name, Chen Xia, meant ‘rosy clouds’.   She was 18 months old and lived in an orphanage in Dongyang, China.  She was abandoned in front of a government building when she was just 3 days old, with a bottle, a spare diaper and a note indicating when she had been born.  My heart ached to hear the details of her abandonment, but the majority of children in orphanages in China have been abandoned by their birth parents.

Each additional tidbit of information we received helped to make her seem more real to us.  The adoption agency then told us that they were going to email us her photo.  My husband and I hovered over the computer, waiting for our inbox to tell us that we had a new email.  A couple of minutes later, “we got mail” and we clicked on the photo and waited impatiently as her photo slowly downloaded (7 years ago, we had dial-up internet connection so photos downloaded slowly).

Our first view of Gracie

Our first view of Gracie

I can hardly describe the feeling when you first see your child for the first time, but it felt the same as when the nurse placed my newly born babies in my arms.  It is a life-changing experience.  This felt exactly the same way.  You know how you love your kids no matter whether they are handsome or pretty, but you are still hopeful that they will be?  That is what we felt and were happy to see that she was pretty.  Her name was going to be Grace ChenXia Johnson (Grace is both my mother and sister’s name). 

After seeing her photo, I wanted to jump on a plane to China that day instead of traveling to Europe.  But, there was paperwork to be completed – mostly us agreeing to accept her as our child and then China issuing travel documents….a process that would take a few weeks.  We emailed our friends and family with her picture and information and then finished packing our suitcases, printed out pictures of our new daughter to take with us and left for the airport to board a plane to Europe.  I must admit that I hardly slept on the plane and kept looking at her photo 🙂

Once we returned home, we set to work on getting everything ready for her.  We painted her room, started packing and of course, went shopping for little girl clothes.

The photo we had of Gracie was taken when she was 16 months old and we were pleasantly surprised to receive an updated photo of her, a few weeks before we were due to leave for China.  She was obviously wearing a dress that was too large for her, but we found out later that they saved this dress to put on the different girls whenever they had their picture taken.

Gotcha Day

You may notice that one of her feet is turned in.  Gracie was born with a club foot.  We knew about this and had indicated to China that we were open to adopt a child with certain special needs, including a club foot.  *You can see that she is leaning against the wall because she could not stand up on her own without falling down.

After months of waiting to travel to China….actually it was only a few weeks, but it seemed like it took forever, we were ready to go.  My husband and I flew from Phoenix to Los Angeles and spent the night with my parents who lived there at the time.  The next day my dad drove us to the airport and we boarded a plane to San Francisco.  There, we met up with 4 other families who we would be traveling with who were also adopting from the same area in China.  

We went through a marathon series of flights.  I used to think the 11 hours it took to fly to Europe was long, but not anymore.  We flew from San Francisco to Seoul, Korea where we had a 4 hour layover.

Dawn in Seoul Korea as viewed from inside the airport

Dawn in Seoul Korea as viewed from inside the airport.

We landed in Shanghai and met our Chinese guide who would guide us through the adoption process.  We were all so happy to have finally landed and I was thrilled to see that our luggage made it too.  We got ready to board the private bus waiting for us and I immediately noticed how humid and warm it was outside.  It felt very ‘tropical’ for this desert dweller.

Gotcha Day

My husband and I along with our weary travel group, ready to board the bus.

Now, our journey was not over yet….we still had to travel 3 hours by bus to the city of Hangzhou.  I really didn’t mind the upcoming ride because I was extremely curious about China and wanted to see more of the countryside and cities.

Gotcha Day

The countryside was very green and small farms and tall homes dotted the roadside.  The homes were usually 3 stories tall as up to three generations of a single family would occupy one home.

The city of Hangzhou

Our guide told us many interesting things about China along the way but she also had additional information about our children and when we would get them.  All of us were supposed to get our children the following day, but there had been a change in plans….two of the families were to receive their new daughters that evening – after traveling for over 24 hours!  As excited as I was to get Gracie, I was relieved that I would be able to get a good night’s sleep first.

The city of Hangzhou

The city of Hangzhou

We arrived in Hangzhou late in the afternoon.  As we drove through the city streets, I had so much fun seeing the things that were the same as back home….

Gotcha Day
Gotcha Day
Pizza Hut

 Pizza Hut


 Seriously, KFC is hugely popular in China.

Along with those that were a little different….

"Fire Fighter Bicycles"

“Fire Fighter Bicycles”

Gotcha Day

Dangerous position for a workman leaning up against wires in the middle of an intersection….OSHA would be literally speechless.

There were many stores that I was anxious to explore later….

Gotcha Day

Our hotel was located by a beautiful lake (West Lake) which was quite famous in China and a tourist destination.

Gotcha Day
Gotcha Day

Part of the lake was covered in lotus.

Gotcha Day

Well, we got to our hotel and checked in.  As we opened the door to our room, the reality that we would have a new daughter in less than 24 hours really hit me….there was a crib already set up for us.  I spent some time unpacking and as I put away the little dresses, diapers and socks, I could hardly wait to meet Gracie the next day.  After unpacking, we went to take pictures of the two families as they greeted their daughters for the first time.  I was so excited for them and I had a hard time taking pictures because I kept crying.  Their daughters were 3 & 4 years old and just darling.

The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast in the hotel with the other families and were eager to see the new little girls who were somewhat shy and withdrawn, which was normal.  Since the rest of us were not to receive our children until 4:00 in the afternoon, we decided to walk to the local grocery store and stock up on some baby supplies and snacks.

Okay, at this point I have an admission to make….I thought I would have no problem with the summer heat – I mean I live in the Arizona desert, right?  Wrong!  I am absolutely a wimp when it comes to humidity and you know what?  It makes the heat so much hotter and uncomfortable.  As our group walked to the grocery store (we all got lost for a while so it took longer), it was in the 90’s, which when it is dry, is not that hot.  But when you couple that with humidity of at least 80%…..well, I thought I would die.  I have never felt so hot in my life….my husband and I got very light-headed and had to stop inside a jewelry store that had air-conditioning for a few minutes.  I think the salesclerks were hoping that we would buy something since I kept looking at the jewelry so they wouldn’t think we were only taking advantage of their air-conditioning 😉  The other families in our group were from Ohio and Texas and did so much better with the heat & humidity then we did.  It was kind of embarrassing 😉

Gotcha Day

*I must say that this about warm, humid climates….they are absolutely beautiful with all of the greenery.  If I must be honest with myself, I would probably acclimate to the humidity if I lived in that type of climate and love it as much as I do living in the desert 🙂

Okay, back to my story…..as 4:00 got closer, I began to get nervous butterflies in my stomach.  The clock seemed to move so slowly.  Finally at about 3:45, we went to a meeting area at the hotel by the elevators with the other families and waited for the orphanage officials to bring us our children.  

Just when I thought I would die of impatience (it was only 3:55), our guide received a call from the orphanage officials bringing Gracie to us stating that they would be late due to traffic.  I was disappointed, but it meant that we could help take pictures of the two other families who were receiving their children at 4:00 (their children were from different orphanages).  

It is such a privilege to be present at the birth of a child and it is the same when you are there when a family meets their new adopted child.  I was so honored to be present when the other families in our group met their new children.  I was busy taking pictures for the other families when I saw the elevator open and then I saw Gracie…..

I realize that this is an extremely long post and I will write the conclusion in my next post.  *I do appreciate you taking the time to read about our adoption adventure.  I will never get tired of sharing it with others 🙂