Today at 9 am, we revisited the Adoption Registry Center of Guangdong Province. We were the first family there. Like every other family, we began the process on Monday, made our donation to the orphanage and filled out the application for adoption, and today we finished the process, which included an official photograph, a five minute interview, and a visit to the Center notary. By 10 am, Zhong Shi Hui was officially transformed from a ward of China, to Shi Hui Brennan, member of the clan Brennan and nascent citizen of the USA.



I will never have another moment in my life quite like the one when Shi Hui shot out of the waiting room looked at me, shouted “Papa!” and threw herself into my arms.

We had sent pictures of our family that were put into a scrapbook ages ago (or so it seems), and it clearly had become a cherished object to our daughter to be. After the initial exuberance, which only devolved into secondary exuberance, she showed us our photos, pointing at them that at each of us in turn. “Papa!” “Mama!” “Jei Jei!” She knew us well.

And now a word on the joy of adopting an older child. He or she will know you in a way that a younger child will not. Shi Hui claimed us when she bounded out to greet us. Not only was she ours, we were very much hers, and she left no doubt about it.

Bed time

At the end of the day Shi Hui (which is pronounced something more like “Shuh way”) is not ready to fall asleep. Ellen sings to her (“Dream a Little Dream of Me” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), while I download kids’ books onto my iPad.

Then I head in for the inaugural reading of The Cat in the Hat. She wants to scroll the pages forward–and backward–but eventually we settle into the story. Afterwards, Google Earth, which conveniently shows exactly where we are. If you at home type in China Hotel, Guangzhou, our room is now in the central portion looking out over the pool (the jackhammering kept getting in the way of afternoon naps).

Of course, the next trip on the globe was our home in Norfolk, so I tracked a line from Guangzhou all the way around the world to the three story house on our street. “Your house. Your home. Papa. Mama. Jei Jei. Mei Mei.” “Papa! Mama! Jei Jei! Mei Mei!” Our girl does indeed speak in perpetual exclamations.

Then I brought up pictures of the Boeing 777 that will fly us around the world, found a seating chart and once again pointed to where each of us will sit. “Jei Jei. Mei Mei. Mama. Papa.” Katherine by the window. Shi Hui in the middle, Mama on the aisle, and Papa across the aisle. No four across seating on the 777. And, once again–with feeling–“Jei Jei! Mei Mei! Mama! Papa!” as she pointed back to those seats.

If you haven’t figured it out, “Jei Jei” means big sister, and Katherine is truly the big sister now. And “Mei Mei” means little sister. “Mama” and “Papa” kind of speak for themselves.


End of our first day, and after dinner Shi Hui brushed her teeth, then insisted on a shower. The patterns of her day have been settled by a rigorous routine.

We have been asked a dozen times (or more) about how she will adjust to our American culture, and we are completely aware that the main adjustment will be from her orphanage culture to our non-orphanage culture. We have to be aware of her transition from a regular and regimented life ingrained over the past nearly 10 years of her life to the playful patterns that we take for granted. For a while, at least, we will have to embrace regularity.

At the Adoption Registry of Guangdong Province


The Adoption Registry Center of Guangdong Province is on a nondescript street, at the “Fortune Commercial Flats.” The elevator to the 8th floor has a patchwork plywood floor that doesn’t quite match the level of the actual floor. Still there is a room of wonderments. Shi Hui dashed out of the waiting room. “Papa!” “Mama!” “Sister!”


How many cranes?

Our American cities are pantheons to the International style in architecture: great glass boxes stretching skywards; verticality accentuated by thin ribs like pinstripes. It is the style that emerged in the 30s and ate skylines in the 40s and 50s (and beyond).

Here, a student of architecture of the past 50 years would gaze into a textbook. Cement facades overtake glass and steel adding textures and colors to the cityscape.

The skyline is riddled with cranes, sweeping high, and reconstructing the city in the image of the present, which is also the image of the hoped-for future.

The China Hotel’s walls are incised with illustrations, and those drawings are repeated on the 18 story towers flanking the central structure of the building. The pictures tell the story, taken from fairy tale and history, of princes and princesses and caravans. It is the story of trade, which is the master plot of Guangzhou.


Dinner (meals)

Tonight we ate out away from the hotel. We shared three dishes (barbecued pork, sautéed green beans, noodles) and the bill came to 108 yuan (17 dollars).

Once again the staff asked Katherine questions in Chinese, which continues to make her feel uncomfortable. She hates being singled out. Ellen and I can easily pass as non-speakers, and we will draw attention because we are Caucasian, but we have years of thick skin developed. Katherine feels the burden of others’ expectations.

And once again, we pointed at the menu. This one had some limited English descriptions (“no lip disturbance” was one), and that helped us avoid the beef with peppers and mushrooms (my wife and daughter do not like mushrooms) miscue of yesterday. Always a noodle dish, always a vegetable, and then one other thing. The food is well seasoned (so much for the Cantonese/ Szechuan comparisons from home). And we are challenged to finish all this food. The flavors help us eat beyond our hunger. And maybe we don’t know how to order it, but no steaming bowls of rice accompany our Chinese food here.

One other observation: at a table near us, a boy was obstinately pounding the table with his mother’s well insulated cell phone. Clearly protesting her choice for dinner. She just ate. Picky eaters are everywhere.

Finally, a reflection on the expenses: 108 yuan is inexpensive, especially compared to meals at the hotel. There is a Sunday family brunch at the hotel that costs 258 yuan. The dinner buffet is over 350. Our coordinator explained that the average salary in Guangzhou is 3000 yuan per month. Of course we all know that average is a slippery term, but it keeps me cognizant of the divide between the what we experience at the hotel, and what we see in our walks out of it.

2:32 in Guangzhou

imageIt’s Sunday in Guangzhou, which means construction. Always construction. There is a jackhammer attached to an excavator (think steam shovel) making dust out of out foundations in the lot beside our hotel.

Our adoption coordinator explained that even though Guangzhou is 2000+ years old, little in the city is more than 100 years old, and most post dates 1949. Here, the new is valued over all. There are museums for the past.

In 24 hours we will meet Shi Hui, whose name could be pronounced one of three or four ways. We have been saying “Shee Wee,” but it could be “Shuh Way,” or “Way Way,” or who knows? All we can do is learn.

And did you learn, while you were growing up, that everyone in China rode a bike? They don’t. Some streets have “No Bicycle” signs, and it is clear that on the streets of Guangzhou, bicyclists are either daring or endangered.