Mandy's Story - A Vietnam Adoption Story - 2
By Laurie O'Neill
Adoption Giving and Receiving Ceremony in Vietnam
The next day, Wednesday, we made the trip to Phu Tho province for the Giving & Receiving ceremony. I had been expecting a long hot, bumpy, dusty ride, but it was actually a very pleasant 2 hour drive in an air conditioned van. Mandy slept in my arms most of the time, and I enjoyed seeing some of the beautiful countryside along the way. We had one stop for soft drinks and diaper changing, and arrived at the government building where to my relief there was a bathroom with western toilets!
We were ushered into a conference room, where we met Dr. Vinh, director of Tu Liem orphanage, and several other officials. Dr. Vinh was delighted to see Mandy, and held her for a long time - Mandy seemed thrilled to see her, and was listening intently as Dr. Vinh spoke to her in Vietnamese. She sat in her lap and ate watermelon and some candy that was on the table - so much for my great plan of her not finding out about candy - she obviously already knew what it was! Through a translator, Dr. Vinh told me, "This one is very smart!" I had quickly been figuring that out! We waited for about an hour for the director who would conduct the ceremony to arrive.
When the ceremony began, the atmosphere changed from relaxed to formal, and you could feel the tension in the air, everyone knowing how important this next hour would be, when these precious children would officially become ours. The director asked each family 2-3 questions. I was fourth out of the 5 families who were there. I really hadn't been too worried about this part beforehand, and the questions that were asked before my turn came around were ones I had expected, such as "Do you promise never to abandon your child and love him/her as your own?", and "Do you plan to teach your child about his/her Vietnamese heritage?". However, when it was my turn the questions I was asked were "Don't you think you're very young to be adopting a child?" (I'm 29 but look younger) and "Did you ever consider the fact that something might go wrong and the adoption wouldn't go through?". Needless to say, these questions terrified me! Shaking and clinging to Mandy, I somehow managed to answer, although I can't even remember now exactly what I said. Suddenly they were onto the next family, and it was over, but I still wasn't quite sure what had happened. Had my answers been okay? Were they going to deny the adoption? I already loved this little girl so much after 2 days together that I would die if I lost her. It was a very frightening few minutes.
When all the families were finished they came around with a pile of papers to be signed. I shook with relief when they put the papers in front of me and handed me a pen. I've never been so happy to sign anything in my life. One by one they called each family up to shake the directors hand and be given the official adoption papers and it was done - she was mine!!!! We piled back into the van and headed for Hanoi, with a stop for dinner along the way. Everyone was exhausted - it was an extremely long day for the babies, who had been as good as gold the whole time but started getting fussy and cranky during dinner. It was a great relief to finally arrive "home" to our room at the Claudia, where we collapsed into bed!
Most of the remaining paperwork involved simply waiting for documents to be ready. IMH did a great job of getting everything done quickly. On Saturday we went to apply for the babies passports, which we picked up on Wednesday, and the visas and all the final papers were delivered to the hotel on Friday. The rest of the time we were free to explore the city and play with Mandy! I was quite amazed to discover that I loved Hanoi! I've travelled a lot, but have never been particularly crazy about travel, and it had been a long time since I'd been overseas and I was fully expecting to be in culture shock. But it never happened - apart from the heat and humidity, I was really comfortable there.
Hanoi is a fascinating city with so much going on that it seems impossible to take it all in. On our first day before Mandy arrived we took a 1/2 hour cyclo ride around town and were sure we would never be able to get oriented, but by the end of the 14 days we knew our way around! The traffic is unbelievable - masses and masses of bikes, motorcycles (often with whole families on them), cyclos, and the occasional car, darting every which way and the constant beep beep beep of horns. Crossing the street was terrifying, and I never did get brave enough to do it alone! On the first day that we went out I was convinced I would never see anything other than the stores that were on the same block as the Claudia! Luckily for me, Mom quickly learned the technique of stepping out into the flow of traffic and proceeding across at a slow, steady pace, and made me do it too!
Cyclos were my favorite way of getting around - you can see a lot, feel like you're part of it all, and best of all, you don't have to cross the street. The shopping was incredible - so many things to buy at such reasonable prices it was impossible not to go crazy. The only problem is that it is SO hot and humid that you can't bear to go out for too long at a time! But we still managed to do okay - by the end our room was buried so deep in souvenirs that we couldn't move. Lacquer boxes and plaques, embroidered pictures & T-shirts, ao dais, frilly little girls dresses for $5 that I bought several of for Mandy to play dress-up in when she's older, paintings, cone hats, musical instruments, wood-carved wall hangings of Vietnamese people, to name just a few. I never thought we would get it all into the suitcases, but somehow we managed.
We were wishing we hadn't brought so much stuff with us - we had been expecting it to be like Africa where if you don't bring it, you live without it, but it seemed like you can buy almost anything there if you know where to look, and the hotel staff can help with that. I didn't need to buy diapers because I had brought them, so I don't know how they compared price wise, but they were easily available. I would recommend not bringing formula, because the hotel goes out and gets whatever the baby was on in the orphanage for you, and you can switch to the brand you want to use when you get home.
One thing that was a bit disappointing to me was the food. I love Vietnamese food here in the US, and had been looking forward to it there, but it turned out to be quite different. The Claudia doesn't have a kitchen - just a small area with tables set up and a menu - they run out and get the food you select. Most of it wasn't very good but we wound up eating there a lot for convenience. We tried several restaurants, but some of the best food we found was at the Queen Cafe, also known as the internet cafe, where you can go to send e-mail. They had delicious plates of noodles and rice with chicken and vegetables and the 3 of us could eat and have soft drinks for a total of about $1.50! I love noodles and rice and before I left I was sure I could easily live on nothing but that for 2 weeks if necessary, but I have to admit we got rather sick of it after a while! A couple of times when we felt desperate for a change we went to Al Frescos, which had wonderful chicken satay and westernized food.
The people we met were some of the nicest I've met anywhere. On the streets they would point to Mandy and ask "Vietnam?" and when I said yes, they would give a thumbs up sign. Mandy was the center of attention everywhere we went, and seemed to enjoy being passed around and admired, although everyone thought she was a boy because of her short hair! They LOVE children, and wanted to know all about her and seemed to approve of the fact that she was going to America. I had one very sad experience though, which I'll never forget - a woman we passed on the street looked at Mandy, held her baby out to me, and said "Take my baby too".
The Claudia Hotel is as wonderful as it has been described on the list. Yes, the rooms are very small, and it can be quite a hike to get upstairs if you're on an upper floor, but everything was clean and quite comfortable, and the staff there more than makes up for any inconvenience - they are WONDERFUL! By the end of your stay you feel as if they're family. Mrs. Thuy knows practically everything about babies and is happy to teach bumbling new parents what to do! Mandy, who fought like crazy when I tried to cut her fingernails, would sit calmly in Mrs. Thuy's lap while she sang to her and trimmed her nails. Tam took us on tours, translated, arranged for us to see the water puppet show, took us to be fitted for Ao Dais and shopping for music, etc. The rest of the staff will babysit any time, and will produce anything you might request at a moment's notice! We shared a room, which had a double bed and they bring a mattress to put on the floor for the baby, but Mandy used that as a play area and slept in the bed with Mom and I. By the time we put 4 suitcases in the room there wasn't much space left! Add piles of souvineers to that and we forgot what the floor looked like! There is a little refrigerator in the room, and every day they bring you a flask of hot water for making formula. We started out in a room on the third floor which had a funny bathtub with a seat in it which made it impossible to stand under the shower, but as soon as space was available they moved us to the second floor which had a normal bathtub. The bathroom doubled as our "kitchen", and Mom spent a lot of time squatting on the floor in there mixing formula and washing out bottles, dishes, etc.! The air conditioning worked most of the time except for when the power went off, and then it had to be reprogrammed by someone from the front desk. Despite these inconveniences, I wouldn't trade our stay there for anything in the world! We had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and got to know some really great people. And the total bill for 14 days in the hotel, about 3/4 of our meals, tons of bottled water and soft drinks, piles of laundry every day, about 10 rolls of film developed with double prints, a day trip Mom took to the Perfume Pagodas, the Water Puppet show, a city tour, medicine, formula for the baby, etc. came to just $650!
A lot of people ask if it's possible to do this trip alone - my answer to that is yes, it is possible, but I would highly recommend bringing someone with you if you can. There was a woman in our group who was travelling alone and she handled it extremely well, so it can certainly be done, but I personally can't imagine having made this trip without my Mom there. She was indispensable to me, making formula, washing dishes, getting everything on video with the camcorder, hauling stuff around, keeping track of things, etc. so that I could concentrate completely on Mandy. Alone, I think the trip would have been very difficult - together, it was fun. The three of us had a lot of really great times that we'll remember forever.
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