I kept a journal on my palm-sized PC while on my trip to Vietnam in 1998 to adopt Marissa. I periodically faxed and e-mailed messages with the events of the previous few days to a friend who forwarded them onto family and friends. I’ve pieced the sections back to together. Personal information (phone numbers, hotel room numbers and e-mail addresses) have been redacted.
Hello from Bangkok
Friday, April 10, 4:30pm local
The trip in one word: Grueling.
Our flight from Chicago to L.A. was cancelled. Thankfully, due to a long layover in Chicago we were able to bump overselves to an earlier flight for that leg.
We spent the first four or so days in Saigon seeing how the other half lives and trying, with only limited success, to inject tourist-y enjoyment during this stressful travel. I’ll have to admit the drives to these tourist destinations actually contributed to the stress. They were long, bumpy rides in our tourist minivan and the driving in Vietnam among the mass of bicycles and mopeds is positively nuts. The women on the trip aren’t looking for adventure, they just want to be moms. Unfortunately, for their sake, they are getting a unique adventure. Due to the schedule and a series of unfortunate circumstances (only some of which I bother to touch on below), it has been a stressful, emotional time for all. For the kids, it will be worth it, but EVERYONE will be glad to be home.
There is much squalor but they seem to be relatively content in Vietnam. Everyone deals in US currency and there is a large underground economy; this may be why.
I have enjoyed the interesting food here: Calamari, barracuda, frog legs, shrimp the size of a computer mouse, but for most of the participants, the lack of western food is frustrating.
Hotels in Asia are designed to save energy so you have to insert your room key in a special holder before you can use the appliances. This also means you cannot leave your air conditioner on when you leave your room. It has been in the humid 90s so far on this trip.
The hot water heaters in Vietnam hotels are on circuit breakers too. I did not know this and I took more than one cold shower at the beginning of the trip.
Monday (4/6) we headed up to Da Nang to the see the babies. Before we were able to complete the adoptions we had to act like plain tourists in Da Nang too. We did some sightseeing in Hoi An by Pedicab (Bicycle Rickshaw). Our minds were obviously elsewhere.
There are five families here adopting. The adoption for the first three families, which included us, was completed Wednesday (4/8) and the last two were completed Thursday (4/9). The first ceremony was very subdued because the two mothers who did not have husbands with them received the word only minutes before that they weren’t going to adopt that day. The ten of us on this trip have become a family, albeit a dysfunctional one, and seeing two children taken away from their new moms, even though it was a transient situation, was emotionally painful for all. Thankfully the second ceremony, as I heard from Chris later, was a much happier occasion.
Literally minutes after the first group of was finished adopting their infants, I along with Leon, another adoptive Father, were whisked off to the Da Nang airport for Bangkok to start the immigration paperwork so the children can leave Vietnam and go to the states. We stranded our wives and children in the government offices in Da Nang. I did not even get to kiss my wife or child goodbye. One new father is left in Da Nang with seven women and five babies where the food and accommodations are mediocre. As you’ll probably infer from the itinerary below, Leon and I will only be able to bond with our children on the plane ride home.
Leon and I did the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and ODP (Orderly Departure Program) paperwork for the first three kids Thursday (4/9) and received the paperwork for the last two kids by fax at the hotel Friday morning (4/10) and ran it around that day just like we did the day before. Fortunately Leon, a lawyer and seasoned stressful situation handler, is exceeding pleasant and competent compatriot and we seem to be getting the job done. He could have done this job by himself so initially I felt about as useful to him as a bicycle is to a fish, but I’m getting over that. That feeling is also fading because I am filling the occasionally indispensable “go-fer” role. Heck I’d scrub the US embassy floors with a toothbrush if I be reunited sooner with Chris and Marissa.
It feels like a bureaucratic “commando strike” as we are rushing to meet a deadline because the Thai government offices, including the INS and ODP US agencies will be shutdown for the first three days of next week (4/13-4/15) for the Buddhist New Year. This has put a major crimp in our plans.
Right now (4/10) the paperwork for the kids is sitting on a government bureaucrat’s desk and he is swamped due to the upcoming holiday. He is going over the paperwork with a fine toothed comb. One is missing the domestic paperwork cabled from Cleveland (the Telex wasn’t received), two have minor errors that can be corrected easily (a missing death certificate; a date wrong on a document and its translation), but the paperwork for the other two, including ours, is good.
Our busy time will be ramping down soon. So Leon and I will be able to enjoy Bangkok–a very busy, cosmopolitan city. We can even drink the water. Leon works at a TV station as a broadcasting techhead manager and we are enjoying the occasional conversation about HDTV.
In the meantime our man in Da Nang is trying to get passports for the babies so the group can go back to civilization, such as it is, in Saigon. Once they are there they have to get a medical check-up and wait for a fax from Bangkok.
Once the US embassy in Bangkok formally confirms that the paperwork is good to go, our man in Vietnam will get a “Letter of Confirmation” (LOC) via fax from the ODP. This indicates, to the Thai embassy in Saigon, that when the children go to Bangkok they will indeed will be able emigrate to the US. The Thai embassy will then permit us to get the required entrance visas for Thailand. After the visas are complete, the families will come to Bangkok late Thursday or very early Friday.
Normally exit interviews are only Tuesday through Thursday, but since they are backed up due to the holiday and the lady at ODP is a very nice person, she is going to come in on her day off and complete the interviews on that Friday (4/17) so we can leave for home the next day (4/18). If the INS paperwork is not finished by early Thursday, then the families will not be able to come to Bangkok until Monday (4/20) and the exit interview will be Tuesday (4/21) and leave for home (4/22). We have scheduled interview times for both dates. Leon and I think that the former date is probable for at least four couples. The nice lady at ODP is less optimistic as normally takes a week to issue a visa from Vietnam after the LOC fax arrives. The fifth adoption, with the missing INS paperwork, is an unknown as far as schedule.
Phone calls from Vietnam are very expensive ($7 per minute) so I apologize for not calling. Hopefully this will suffice. I’m sure if I called it would just add to the stress at home. Really it is only a matter of waiting. The paperwork is good. I just wish I wasn’t leaving Chris alone with the baby for the first 9 (or 12) days of her life with us. I, along with you at home, are only getting part of the story. Chris has the video camera with her so hopefully I will be able to see her first bath, her first diaper change, etc. when I get home. I should not be, but I am very jealous now of those who can have children by birth.
Basically hang loose on the arrival time home as we have no idea when we are coming home. This trip seems to be endless for us too.
Ken and, in abstentia, Chris
Hello again from Bangkok
Saturday, April 11, 8:00pm local
I just got off the phone with Chris. Marissa is healthy but she is crying ALL the time and Chris is getting zero sleep and obviously she’s not in a good mood. She told me she would kill me if I had a tan. I don’t, but I now feel even more helpless being the absentee father.
The holiday next week in Bangkok involves dumping water on each other in the streets. It makes no sense, but this is really true. It is just part of the celebration for the new year. Street vendors are selling water pistols. Because I want to avoid that, I spent the day walking around Bangkok soaking up as much of the atmosphere as possible before the holiday. I will probably spend next week holed up in my hotel room reading books just waiting for our government.
I finally broke down at bought a souvenir of a sort. Thailand is know for their fabrics and cheap labor. Consequently, tailor made suits are very inexpensive. For the cost of cheap off-the-rack JCPenney clothes, I got measured for a suit in a medium gray chinchilla herringbone fabric and two white shirts. The tailor made clothes should be available for pickup Thursday. Normal turnaround is a day, but with the holiday, yada yada yada.
Chris was able to enjoy shopping last week and this week before the adoption. She bought some jewelry for Marissa. She bought some other things that are destined to become gifts, so I cannot elaborate any further without screwing up.
If anyone stateside needs to get a hold of us, here’s the information. Again, we are not calling from here because the hotel phone charges are outrageous. Remember, we are a 11 hours ahead of you.
Chris and Marissa are at the Riverside hotel in Da Nang in room 202. On Tuesday 4/14, or thereabouts, they will be going to the Chancery hotel in Saigon. I am at the Novotel hotel in Bangkok, room 1717, for the rest of the trip. On Thursday 4/16 (our anniversary) or the next day, Chris and Marissa will be joining me. At this hotel, incoming faxes under five pages are free. In case any of those on the To: list cares, Rich Ball knows of a free internet email to fax server for Bangkok.
Ken, and still in abstentia, Chris and Marissa
Hello for the third time from Bangkok
Monday, April 13, 7:00pm local
I got Rich’s fax Sunday 8:23am, so I assume the email was sent Saturday evening your time. It ended up being a half-page cover letter with a half-page fax that looked great and seemed to have had no problem getting here.
Rich, thank you for calling my mom. Like me, she is a detail person and so I’m not surprised that she was taking notes.
We have been sending e-mail out every other evening or so, but since there is a dearth of information from our end until Thursday due to the Songkran holiday, do not be surprised if you only hear from us sporadically. It obviously is cheaper for us to type the messages ahead of time and do a quick connect and mass download instead of calling many voice lines and hoping not to get voice mail or an answering machine. The incoming faxes obviously do not require us to logon. I do not know how often Chris calls home. I would imagine it is not much if any.
The Vietnam passports have been held up because they decided this week to start laminating babies’ passports for security sake. Unfortunately the laminating machine is new and the people in Vietnam do not know how to work it. This is the delay that is preventing the infants from traveling back to Saigon until Tuesday (4/14). Supposedly our guide has made the plane tickets for Tuesday so this is as sure of a thing as we’ve seen so far. Chris and the others are not using the laundry service in Da Nang because evidently the clothes are coming back dirtier than they are sent out! Chris is doing baby laundry in the sink and hanging it out to dry on the balcony. I’m sure Chris is secretly hoping that the baby clothes will shrink too. Everything Chris brought is way too big for Marissa.
Leon initially looked into having one of us head back into Vietnam to be of support to our wives (Chris really needs it and we’re not needed in Bangkok at this point), but that since it takes at least a week to get an entry visa for Vietnam the point is moot.
Leon, who is also a lawyer, mentioned that he was planning on re-adopting his new daughter when she gets back into the states. I’m thinking we should too. (It’ll cost even more money, but to save my sanity I’ve stop counting the cost of this whole process.) I don’t know if this has occurred to Chris yet. This will give Marissa an Ohio birth certificate and will legally change her name from Huong Thi Dang. I found out last week that Huong (pronounced “Hoong”) means Fragrance. I figure this gives me full right to call her “lil’ stinker” a year from now.
Baby news (well as little as I know):
Marissa is very fussy. It turns out she is running temperature of 100.3 (down from 101.7) as Chris is giving her baby Tylenol. My lack of knowledge here is showing. I dunno if this means the fever is breaking and the worst is over or whether the Tylenol is only masking the problem. Thankfully Marissa is still eating! Part of the INS requirement is for the babies to have a medical physical. This should happen Wednesday in a Saigon hospital, so if there is a problem, perhaps the doctors may have a suggestion for antibiotics. I do not know how readily antibiotics are available in Vietnam though. Chris was hoping to get some antibiotics from her pediatrician before she left in case this situation arose, but the doctor said no, stating that she could always call if she had problems. Personally, I can’t see how calling from Vietnam could help out at this point. To the best of my recollection our pediatrician does not have privileges at ANY Vietnam hospital. I’m hoping one of the other moms offers Chris some of the antibiotics they brought.
Another baby, a boy, cries when picked up. His mom is going nuts. The two year old girl is having the run of the hotel and, after some initial concern before the adoption, seems to have bonded now with her new mom. The other two baby girls seem very content although I think one of them is running a fever too. The missing paperwork for three of the kids seems to be on its way to being cleared up.
I read the “Babywise” book from cover to cover on the plane ride here which supposedly explains how to easily get you child to sleep through the night. (Chris has it now.) I chuckle a little when I think it would be even remotely possible to apply the book’s guidelines at this point. I will probably take the advice that two parents on the trip gave Chris and me. One family is adopting a fourth child and over the past 25 years or so have been foster parents to 13 others. The other family is adopting their eighth child. The advice from both very experienced parents: Throw the parenting books away. Life doesn’t seem to be that simple anymore.
If I were a betting man, I’d say that although it is likely that the families will be reunited in Bangkok late this week, it is not a lock that we will make the first scheduled exit interview on Friday (4/17) and will end up having our exit interview Tuesday (4/21) instead. Those of you at home plan accordingly. Obviously there are no revised flight plans yet.
Change in location!!!
Monday, April 17, 6:23am local
[This e-mail was sent by Leon to both his friends and mine.]
From: leon brown [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, April 17, 1998 6:23 AM
I am sending this to all of the folks whose e-mail addresses I have, and hope you will send it on to the appropriate forwarding locations, phone numbers, etc.
Our paper-work did not get done at the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) in time, so we are now waiting for a Monday processing appointment. There is a whole story to be told about political influence and bureaucratic pressure, but that will have to await another day and time.
We have also moved hotels, as a result of our “Jungle Guide & All Around Good Guy”, G.T. Le. G.T. was able to get us into a nicer hotel at a much better rate.
We are now at the Pathumwan Princess Hotel in Bangkok. Feel free to call if you have some time & money to spare!!!! (ha ha!)
It looks now like Tuesday will be our first chance to travel, and it may be Wednesday. Two of families got their paper-work thru, and will be headed home sometime tomorrow. The rest of us will be enjoying Bangkok hospitality for a few more days. We are all in the same hotel.
In the meantime, Amber & Brenda will just have to make the sacrifice and do some more shopping! They seem to be willing to force themselves to do that!
Katie Lan is doing great. She really is a very good baby. She just watches, and giggles & coos at us.
God Bless all, & we will see you as soon as we can.
Pray for us.
Leon, Brenda, Amber & Katie & the rest of the gang.
Hello for the from Bangkok once again
Friday, April 17, 8:00pm local
Chris and I were able to spend our anniversary together. We dined on McDonalds and warm Sprites. Yum. After a night together, I now have a little a taste of what Chris has been going through by herself this past week.
For the past week Leon and I have pushed paperwork for everyone. Two couples were able to have their interview today (4/17) and will fly back Saturday (4/18).
Of the remaining three couples, only Marissa has been formally approved by INS. We lucked out. This is very good news for us, but the remaining two families, although they deserve this just as much, have more waiting and worrying to do. Our interview is scheduled for Tuesday (4/21) and we will, almost definitely, fly home Wednesday 4/22. Due to gaining back time lost on the flight over, we will arrive home in Columbus Wednesday evening. Probably the same flight we were originally intending to take home, only a week later.
With some heroic effort and crazy flights by our guide, G.T., the paperwork for the other two should be corrected Monday (4/20) so that the last two families will be able to have their interviews on the same day as well. Who knows. [This did not happen. -ken on 4/23] INS has been a royal pain up and down. Amazing what head games this
department can do to us.
We are now in a different (nicer and cheaper hotel!) so the email fax number has changed. We changed hotels after I received a bill for 42,000 baht for the past week I spent in Bangkok alone, in addition to the cost for hotels for Chris and Marissa in Vietnam. We do not plan on changing anymore hotel arrangements from this point on.
Ken, along with Chris and Marissa!