Adoption Island

Free Stroller

Anyone that’s every adopted a kid from China has been to Shamian Island in Guangzhou.

I’ve seen many different types of tourism, but nothing every like this…

Shops advertise, “Free Stroller for All Customers.” Baby clothes hang in windows. Portraits of newly formed families are sketched into stone, matted and framed, and painted. Restaurants and shops have as down-home American names as possible: Lucy’s Diner, Bill’s Markets, Suzy’s Portraits. They serve applie pie. The White Swan hotel has a play room for babies.

It’s Sunday. People don’t get their kids until Monday or Tuesday so there are many anxious couples pacing about the quiet streets of the island. The process takes a week or two. Once the parent’s get their child they have to start the paperwork with the US Consulate. This can take awhile.

The Consulate used to be on the island but has since moved a 40-minute taxi ride away. I ask a shop girl across from the hotel if this has been bad for business.

“80% of our customers are Americans adopting kids…Business has slowed a little since the consulate moved. But I don’t think that has much to do with it. People like it here. The adoption agencies have been using this place for a long time. It’s safe and quiet on the island. I think less Americans are adopting because the process takes longer. It used to take less than a year from start to finish. Now, it takes around two.”

With regards to worlds meeting, Shamian Island is one of the most interesting places I’ve been. It’s where the Haves (it isn’t cheap to adopt a kid in China) come to adopt the children of the Have Nots. It’s an extreme form of producer meeting consumer.

Today you will meet your daughter, who you will give a bright future, hope, a bedroom, teddy bears, an education, a car when she turns 16, everything in this world that you can offer.

Today you will meet your parents. They look funny with their big noses and light skin, but you will learn to love them. You’ll give them parent teacher conferences and recitals to attend, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards, grandchildren. And when they are old you will take care of them.

Lives change forever on Shamian Island.

A little Chinese girl walks beside her new mom. Mom holds out her hand to her new daughter. The daughter ignores it. They are almost strangers to each other.

Lives change slowly on Adoption Island.

Add a comment
Kent says:

Nice peice Kelsey

Kelsey says:

Thanks Kent. I hope to spend some more time there talking with families. At a minimum it will make a nice column in the future.

Miles says:

Stories about adoption in other countries always strike a chord with me for some reason. I don’t know why, but consider my chords struck! Reminds me of the story I just read on World Hum about a woman working in a orphanage in Costa Rica. If you haven’t read it already I would recommend it! Thanks Kelsey!

Elizabeth says:

I stayed there for a few days several years ago, recovering from bronchitis in Beijing. We had lunch at Lucy’s. It was a surreal place…

Kelsey says:

Miles, happy I could strike your chord.

Elizabeth, when I return to Guangzhou next week I plan on going to talk to some of the couples about their experience. Two weeks ago I tried to talk a couple letting me tag along when they “picked up their kid.” They politely said no. I felt really weird asking to go along, but I’m really interested in this interaction between our two worlds.

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