The Garden Hotel, from above.
Guangzhou, through the haze.

Whew, it’s been awhile since I shared my story about the Chinese toilet. My parents and brother came to visit, it was Bini’s birthday, XJ has been snoring like a buzzsaw and we’re not getting any sleep, etc. That’s a post for later. I’m long overdue in posting about our travels, and we’re in the final leg, Guangzhou.

I should also note that we’ve renamed XJ to Evan, which is how I’ll refer to him forthwith. OK, back to the story.

We arrived in Guangzhou on Friday, March 13 (which yes, I just realized was Friday the 13th. Nothing unlucky happened, just a crappy airplane flight). It was nighttime, after 8 o’clock, and both boys were tired and cranky. We were met at the airport by Helen, who is quite possibly the nicest guide in the world. Except for Sarah and Elsie, who are also based in Guangzhou.

These aren’t their Chinese names, of course. All of the guides explained to us that they chose their American names while studying in college, and what’s kind of sweet is that they’re all these old-fashioned names, like Helen and Elsie and Sarah. Not a Brynlee or Kyleigh in the bunch.

I usually got polite, slightly piteous looks when I told experienced China travelers that our itinerary included eight days in Guangzhou.  Guangzhou — called GZ by those in the know — isn’t usually on anyone’s top five list of places to see in China. It has 14 million people just in the city limits, and it’s a major transportation and trading hub. But it’s not very pretty. It’s vertical, in the same way that Hong Kong and Shanghai are, and it’s modern. It has a sprawling skyline and a humid climate and it’s close to both Hong Kong and Macau. We were there because it’s also the location of the American consulate — the final stop for all families looking to leave the country with their adopted Chinese children.

Helen, who was that rare combination of cheerful and calm, shepherded us to a van and we were off. She told us a bit about what to expect in the coming days, and asked us how Evan was adjusting. We asked her to tell Evan a few things for us, in Mandarin: That we still weren’t home yet, that we’d be in this hotel for a few days and then we’d go home on a big airplane flight. That we loved him, and that he was a good boy. His face lit up at that one. “He likes praise,” Helen said.

We pulled up to The Garden Hotel, which from the outside, looked like a Vegas hotel. It felt a lot like Vegas on the outside, too, with the upscale mall across the street and the pedestrian overpasses crisscrossing the busy, wide streets. I was very curious about The Garden, which is where tons of adopting families stay. In the adoption community, The Garden is beloved for its Western beds, its spacious suites, its unflappable housekeeping staff, its varied and plentiful breakfast buffet and its expansive grounds. We spent a fair bit of time roaming the hotel in the ensuing days, for lack of anything better to do.

It was nearly 10 o’clock, but the entry of the hotel was a hive of activity, with staff scurrying about and people wheeling their luggage in and out. The lobby was enormous and ornate, with no fewer than three restaurants and a half-dozen fancy-looking stores just in the immediate area. For the first time since we arrived in China, I saw people of different ethnicities, and nobody gave our little rainbow crew a second glance. I saw Eastern European men decked out in club gear, a Middle Eastern family with piles of luggage, and lots and lots of Chinese kids and their new Caucasian parents.

The Garden Hotel, from above. I'm not sure how Steve got this picture. Maybe in his private helicopter?
The Garden Hotel, from above. I’m not sure how Steve got this picture. Maybe in his private helicopter?

Most of the kids had obvious special needs, like cleft lip, or microtia or Down’s syndrome. With others, it wasn’t clear what their need was, but the vast majority of families there were adopting children with some medical issue. Parents who want a “healthy” child can wait up to five years to be matched; after submitting our dossier, we waited five months to be matched with Evan. But I digress.

We took the elevator up up up to the 27th floor. Along the way, Helen told us that we could have breakfast downstairs, or in the executive dining room, on the 30th floor. “Most families on the executive floors find that dining room to be quieter,” she said with a smile.

I want to just clarify here that I didn’t realize our suite was going to be three times as big as my first San Francisco apartment. I knew it was a suite, that there was a separate bedroom and two bathrooms. But I didn’t realize that there would be a large living room and dining room, a wet bar, a walk-in closet and vanity area, and a big master bath. Three TVs, including one over the big jacuzzi tub.

“Wow,” I said to Steve as we toured the suite. “If you have to be in Guangzhou for a week, this is the way to do it.”

There was a knock at the door and a housekeeper wheeled in a crib for Evan. No cot for Bini, which irked me. We’d asked for a cot for him in all three hotels, and it had been this big issue. “What if we put the sofa cushions on the floor and it’ll be like camping out?” asked Helen. Bini was game for that idea, so the housekeeper scurried off to get a set of sheets, and then made up the cushions like a bed.

After giving the housekeeper a big tip, we unpacked as much as we could, wrestled the boys to bed and crashed out. We had the medical visit the next day, which was legendary in adoption circles for being hectic, tear-filled and characterized by long waits. “The medical” was another in the long list of official things we had to do before we could have our consulate appointment on Thursday, and get the heck out of China.

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