Vietnam Info

Rough Day

By Dan | June 21, 2007

Finally, all’s quiet on the Eastern front… As you can tell by my entry interval, today was not a particularly good day, although it is ending much, much better than it started. The twins tag teamed all night, so we probably got a cumulative 2 hours of sleep, ending at 4am when both were up and fussing constantly. We figured out about 4 that they were constipated, but at that time there isn’t much we could do about it. (There isn’t exactly a 24 hour Walgreen’s here.) Thanh’s finally cleared on it’s own about 8am (two diapers full, he was really backed up), but it took several hours for him to feel better I think. About the same time, we called Anna our facilitator, who came by the hotel with Thao. Anna and Shannon took the twins while Thao and I walked down the street to a pharmacy to get glycerin suppositories.

The pharmacy met absolutely no expectations when compared with those in the USA. This was a hole-in-the-wall store front, with a counter up front (no customer entry) and a pharmacist and all products in storage cases everywhere else in the space. The pharmacist asked what we needed in reasonable English and I asked for the glycerin suppositories, and she gave me a very quizzical look. Makes me wonder what they are used for here. Anyway, she asked what the problem was, and I told her, thinking the language barrier was a problem. She understood and started digging around the various boxes and came up with Duphalac. She spoke with Thao for a while in Vietnamese and I think she may have been trying to persuade Thao that we should use the Duphalac instead (which is oral, we really didn’t have the time to wait). Eventually, she scrambled around the pharmacy some more and found a dosage sheet for the Duphalac, and some glycerine suppositories. (All in all, the total was like $1.50 for 6 suppositories and the equivalent of 6 infant doses of the Duphalac.) Thao and I walked back, and Shannon and I went up and administered the suppository to Vinh about 9, and by 9:05 he was starting to clear as well. Shannon and I have decided that they were probable getting too rich of a formula mix (even though it is mixed consistent with the instructions on the formula and from the orphanage), and have thinned it out some. Also, we are going to keep giving them small amounts of the Dulphalac until we are sure they are on schedule or until we can get home.

After all was settled upstairs, I took Thanh and went down to get some breakfast. (Breakfast is included with our hotel stay, and is served until 9:30.) I walked into the restaurant at 9:28, and they were starting to close up. The hostess smiled at me and said it was fine, and everyone stopped until I had eaten. I must have looked horrible, because they set a new place at a table for me, and she said that she had seen Shannon early this morning (Shannon had gone down for toast around 6 or 6:30.) I told here it had been a long night and she said she understood. She (and all of the staff) were very kind, waiting hand and foot even more than normal.

While digestive tracts were finally getting to be normal, it took a while for the kids to start to feel better. They were still fussy and irritable all morning (although Thanh already was starting to like being held much more). By the time we started to get them settled down so they were at least quiet (about 10:45), Anna called to say our CIS appointment was at 11:45 and she would be picking us up in 15 minutes. Shannon assumed she meant tomorrow, since it felt like it was at least 4pm by then. She was pretty shocked to know it was not even 11am! We scrambled around everywhere to get ourselves presentable and prepared for the kids, which of course upset the kids. Finally we got everyone situated, and were still 10 minutes late (which is actually pretty impressive I think given what state we were in all morning). Anna was very patient, and we got a taxi to go to the CIS office. Both kids were sound asleep by the time we were into the taxi of course, since there was no way that Shannon and I could get any sleep for the next several hours. (They slept all the way through until we got back to the hotel.)

Thankfully, Anna had built in some extra time for traffic and what not, and we walked into the office pretty much right on time. The officer was of course running late, so we waited for about 30 minutes. The interview was not bad, the majority of it was confirming information on our I600a application, and some brief questions to ensure that there was not any impropriety in the process. The officer seemed to regard the Vietnamese adoption process with disdain, and made it clear without directly saying so that she was not in favor of reopening the program. I’ll probably write more on this subject when I get home. For now, the important part is that everything is in order (to our knowledge – it’s probably just my unease about the process, but I will feel better when we have documents in hand).

Came back to the hotel and Shannon stayed with Thanh while Anna and the other family and I (and Vinh) went to buy our plane tickets for Hanoi. It was fairly unremarkable, other than it took almost 90 minutes to buy 8 plane tickets. Total cost was just under 200 USD for two tickets and both infants. So we are all set to leave tomorrow at 6pm for Hanoi. Shannon and I are both excited, but have no energy to show it. Only things left are to get the passports (Thao will deliver them at 2) and the medical reports, which apparently cannot be released without the passports issued. The Cho Ray hospital that we used apparently bends the rules a little bit due to the volume of immigration physicals they perform, but apparently the physical is not technically supposed to occur until after the passport is issued. I’m not sure from the CIS officers comments whether that is a US thing or a VN thing, but she did not seem to have a problem with it.

Back to the hotel, and Shannon was feeding Thanh. (Vinh had taken a whole bottle at the airline ticket office.) We tried to put them down at the same time to get some sleep. This was the first time that we have tried to put either one of them down without them more / less being already asleep, much less at the same time. It took about 90 minutes, but we were eventually successful and got between 4-5 hours of sleep finally. With more regular digestive tracts, they are different babies this afternoon, but they are still very itchy. The only reason I can see for this is the drier air of the air conditioned room, but unless we can find an anti-histamine there isn’t much we can do. This makes them very restless all the time, especially when going down to sleep and while sleeping. (Thanh especially has been moving almost constantly as I have been writing, even though he is pretty deeply asleep. Since I am awake and aware I try to keep rocking his cradle when he starts tossing. I don’t think this is actually necessary, but I would rather be safe as all of us need the rest.) I may try the pharmacy again tomorrow morning, but don’t expect much luck, as I was kind of looking for a familiar product when I was there today and didn’t see one. I also looked at the grocery store, but sale of OTC drugs is apparently not common / allowed outside of a pharmacy here. (OTC is kind of relative anyway, as it seems even the most rudimentary drugs must be bought through a pharmacist, even tho no prescription is necessary.)

Shannon woke me up at about 8 to mention that we were basically out of water, so I went over to the mall grocery store to get more and shopped for a little bit. Bought a couple souvenirs (although what I am really looking for is a money clip – keeping USD and Dong on the same clip is just not that practical, especailly with the volume of bills necessary for Dong.) It was near closing time for the mall (in fact, it was 15 minutes after close when I left), but the shopkeepers were still very willing to help. Only at the jewelry shops would I have had problems, as they pretty much pack up the same way our jewelry stores do with any external facing windows. I have lots of promises to come back tomorrow, as I was running out of readily accessible cash. (I had plenty in my passport holder, but was unwilling to dig under my shirt for it in the mall.) Hopefully time will allow, as there were several things I was legitimately interested in. One shop keeper was trying to haggle in order to make the sale, and saw that I had a credit card and she very excitedly kept saying ‘I take Visa’ (even though it was an American Express that she had seen in my money clip). I told her we would probably both be happier if I came back tomorrow and she seemed to understand, although was a little disappointed. Found a few really neat future gift ideas for the kids tho, and hopefully Shannon and I can get back there to get some of them, or we can find something similar in Hanoi.

Speaking of Hanoi and travel in general, we will be staying at the Gouman hotel that is mentioned in all our travel guides. This is a 4 star hotel and supposed to be very comfortable. (The Oscar hotel where we are staying is a 3 star, and works very well especially given the rate, but is definitely of the 3 star variety.) Reservations are already made. We are told that it is now safe to change plane reservations for return to next week. Shannon and I have not discussed exactly when we may want to return (and some of that will be at the mercy of Korean Air anyway), but I must first find the local Delta number. Hopefully there is one for Vietnam; if not, I may see if I can find someone stateside (probably Fred as he is familiar with Delta) to take care of it. As of right now, it looks like we may be home in time to get to the beach, and as I have not re-booked our airline tickets for the wedding, there is a (fairly slight) chance we may still go. Hopefully everything continues to go smoothly, but it sounds like the major in-country hurdles are taken care of, and the child hurdles we will have to deal with in transit (and if not, the earlier we are home the better in that regard, if no other reason than to get on a medical system we are familiar with).

Also, Shannon thinks Vinh may have an ear infection. He has been tugging at his ears almost since we got him on Tuesday, but has not had a fever, discharge, or basically any other symptoms. I’m hoping it is just that they aren’t clearing due to congestion. They are still clearing out from the cold they had last week, and all the crying this morning did not help the matter. Regardless, hopefully this does not cause a problem flying tomorrow and if it’s not already an infection, clears up before it becomes one. We have received advice that we should be feeding them at takeoff and landing to help the clear their ears, so will try that.

I think that’s the major points of the day. There are a few other topics I will catch up in future entries.

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Paying the Consulate

By Dan | June 20, 2007

Back from the Consulate, all went well. Motorbike ride through the streets of HCMC was very interesting experience. Hanging onto the back of a motorbike, having never ridden a motorcycle and Thao can’t weigh much more than 95 pounds! The experience was kind of fun now that it is over, but definitely glad I am not doing it regularly.

Also was interesting having to change modes from patient and polite (Asian mode) to persistent and polite (American mode) – At first the guard said that there was no admission today (I suspect he meant no more admissions today but it was lost in the language barrier), then after a little persistence he asked someone else who let me in and directed me to a window with no one there. After a few tries, they finally found the person who was supposed to be working the window, and it was paid without incident. Overall, pretty painless tho, as I was expecting to have to wait. Hopefully it gets lined up with our interview correctly so we can keep whatever appointment time has already been set. We were told to stay in the room and ready to go on short notice.

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Medical Exam and Passport Applications

By Dan | June 20, 2007

Long day today, and it isn’t even over… Vinh finally fell asleep next to me after being generally cranky for the last hour, and Thanh is playing with Shannon on the bed after already having gotten up from his nap. It is still amazing, getting to know them. Their personalities are very similar, yet very distinct at the same time. Before long, I think I will be able to tell them apart by personality, and we have gotten better at by looks as well. (Some of this is due to a scratch pattern on Vinh’s face that will be healed in the next day or so, however.)

Today was the medical exam and the Vietnamese passport application. We elected to pay extra for expedited passport service, which meant hiring someone to walk through the application essentially. It’s about $300 each, which isn’t cheap, but well worth it rather than waiting 2-3 weeks. We met the guy the facilitators hired at the Vietnamese passport agency, and filed, which amounted to me signing twice and proving that could pronounce Vinh’s name correctly. (Actually, that apparently wasn’t that important, as I didn’t get it quite right.) Anyway, the experience was rather like waiting at any number of US government offices – sit in rows of chairs until your name is called. Since we had the expediter there, it didn’t take long, and he was called on his cell phone when we were ready rather than over the loudspeaker.

Then we went to the medical exam. The hospital is a semi-open air complex, with some waiting areas inside and some outside. The doctor was very nice and understood English very well, although it took some work for him to speak it. We spoke about where we were from, and our general observations of the twins (although he was shocked to hear that we had them only about 24 hours). Their coughs are significantly better today, and the doctor agreed that is probably any number of the adjustment to A/C, allergies, and the remnants of a cold. He gave us something to give them if they should develop fevers, but said otherwise they should be fine as is and gave his medical clearance.

The drive through the city was fairly unremarkable, other than the bad air conditions and traffic. We did drive through an older part, with power and telephone lines everywhere. It looked very “Hollywood Hong Kong” if that makes any sense. I managed to get a picture (the only one of the day, it was tough to handle a camera today), but I don’t think it will do justice to the effect.

When we got back to the hotel, we were told to wait for Anna. (Thao was the only person with us today. I’m guessing that Anna was doing paperwork for us at the consulate.) Anna informed us that the consulate would not accept the documentation of the boys as twins (which amounted to a statement from the orphanage saying something to the effect that they were found together, looked identical, and had similar temperaments). Therefore, we would have to pay a second I600 fee prior ($545) to our interview tomorrow or it would be canceled. Transportation is an issue to do so this afternoon, and the facilitators are not allowed into the part of the consulate where I must do so, so this “minor” change is a little nerve wracking. The facilitators must have sensed this, as Thao offered to take my by motor-scooter one way, but I will still have to navigate back by cab due to having to wait there and her having other business this afternoon. Hopefully this isn’t a problem, and hopefully they take credit cards as indicated, as the extra cash things are starting to add up. I’m bringing cash as well just in case tho.

They also coached us on the interview tomorrow. We need to learn some information from the paperwork in case the CIS officer asks, such as the circumstances of abandonment. More on this after the interview.

Anna says that if the interview goes well and they grant CIS approval tomorrow, we will leave for Hanoi on Friday. If that happens, we may be home by the middle of next week. I’m certainly ready to go home, tho this has been a very whirlwind experience, and some part of me wishes it would have taken a little longer to be able to let it really sink in a little more, and experience a little more of the culture. It is a concern of the Vietnamese government (and most of at least the Asian programs) that adopted children are at least exposed to the cultures of their heritage, and this is likely the only first-hand exposure we will be able to take with us. At the same time, the twins are what is important, and I suspect when we get home that adjustment will just go that much quicker (and not just because we had a head start). Again, I speak of the middle of next week like it is tomorrow tho, and it is just the middle of this week now, so even under the perfect circumstances we will have a week to go. It also might be nice to have the weekend to spend in Hanoi, since we basically already spent a weekend here (not that we did much with it).

Thanh would like to add a few remarks:


(that is to say, he just climbed up on the keyboard). Vinh has been successfully moved to his bed. I should really remove temptation, as this big black device looks like a wonderful toy to them.

Alright, now he has lost interest. (Until I started typing again.) Both were laughing and giggling today, Vinh when I was bouncing him around in the carrier, and Thanh when Shannon was playing peekaboo. It gets easier and easier to make them grin and giggle with each passing hour, so hopefully that is another sign of increased comfort with us. They also have been babbling a little more (and we have witnessed them babbling individually). Thanh tends to say ‘ba-ba-ba’ and Vinh says more ‘ga-ga’, but they both have variations. (Coincidentally, as I type this Thanh just put together a ‘sentence’ of 4-5 sounds, not all of which are typeable…)

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The First Evening

By Dan | June 19, 2007

All is quiet. Thanh and Vinh apparently did not get very restful sleep in the car, as Thanh has slept for over 4 hours now, including through rearranging the room (including his cradle with him sleeping in it), room service delivery, laundry service pickup and all the associated bumping and noise. Despite being warned to be careful of room temperature, he is in a short sleeve sleeper and has kicked off the blanket. Vinh on the other hand slept for about two hours before waking up into a blood curdling yell, even louder than anything that had occurred so far today. I think it’s either that he had a bad dream (maybe about two ogres taking him away on a big silver machine? :) ) or woke up in strange surroundings. He did not want to be held or comforted, no pacifier or bottle, or anything else until I finally started walking around the room with him. Then he fairly quickly calmed down and went back to sleep (solidly enough that I was able to get him into his crib this time). Maybe he was concerned that Thanh wasn’t there and caught a glimpse of him sleeping in the other cradle, I don’t know. It was reassuring to know that we could be comforting to him so soon tho. I suspect it is going to take some extra effort and special care to ensure that Vinh adjusts well. Thanh seems to be mostly oblivious and generally content, at least so far.

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By Dan | June 19, 2007

Well, according to the Vietnamese Government we are officially the parents of Tran Quang Thanh and Tran Quang Vinh! We went to the orphanage this morning, and all the preparation for director quirks and all was for nothing, as we met the director, signed the papers, and then finally met Thanh and Vinh. It actually seemed a little ceremonious, as the director did not speak English, so everything he said was translated and spoken rather formally. Overall, we were probably at the orphanage about 45 minutes. They had us sign a book with a note that appeared to mostly be a register of everyone that had adopted there. Other than that, we spent a little time with Thanh and Vinh before we left, and asked a few questions of the nannies, but not much actual time at the orphanage.

When we first entered the baby room, Thanh and Vinh were in adjacent cribs, and the nannies quickly scooped one up and placed them in the same crib, where they both stood there clinging to the edge rail. The cribs were stainless steel or chrome – shiny, metallic, and rather institutional looking. Not like the old Romanian orphanage photos with worn paint, but still rather disheartening that someone had to start life that way. We saw a couple of the hammocks of which we had heard (unfortunately couldn’t get a good picture, but the above link shows one in the background). It appeared that the hammocks were as much as anything a way to make more crib space when they ran out of cribs. The cribs and play space had woven mats on the bottom (bamboo or palm fronds?), and while they looked very functional, they didn’t look very comfortable, and definitely weren’t very inviting.

For me it was pretty much love at first sight. I had grown attached somewhat to the picture that had been the wallpaper on my home computer for quite a while, but pictures for the most part just don’t provide enough reality for me for such a thing. Seeing them standing side by side in the crib (wearing matching outfits – of course they were going to make a challenge for us to begin with), was enough to make your heart melt. Hopefully the photo I got captured the moment pretty well (I haven’t pulled any off the camera yet).

They are both sick, most likely with colds. The caretakers said they had been running a fever of 102 a couple days ago, and they have stuffy noses and rattly chests. Most likely, they are finishing getting over what they had caught, and hopefully nothing else shows up in the medical exam tomorrow. The scabies patches look like they are starting to heal, and getting into the air conditioning should help that.

Thanh and Vinh both were extremely easy going from the get go, both clinging on and accepting us holding them without a fuss. (As opposed to the girl for the other “couple” who took quite a while to calm down when first introduced. Interestingly enough, she reached for the 5 year old boy, rather than her new mother, and did not settle down with her new mother for quite a while.) They were calm and curious, looking back and forth for quite a while until we got in the van to leave. The seemed to check for one another quite a while, but that may be us adults over-reading their curiosity. we snapped a few pictures with the director and the care-givers, and left.

Once we left, we went to the Ministry of Justice office in Vung Tau for the Giving and Receiving ceremony. This was an unremarkable office on the second floor over a motorbike parking area. We went in, signed a few more papers, snapped a few more pictures, and that was it. However, Thanh and Vinh seemed to realize that the activity of the morning wasn’t a joke, and both started screaming. Wow do they have powerful lungs! We tried to calm them and gave them bottles. They ate some, but they were having nothing to do with calming down. They went from shortly after we got into the MofJ office to back into the van, through 5 minutes down the road to KFC (yep, they have them here) and back into the van before finally Thanh took a pacifier and fell asleep, and Vinh followed a few minutes afterward. It was a rather interesting car ride back, as seatbelts are not standard equipment here, much less child seats. I was propped in trying to slouch in the seat so that Thanh could lie on me more than me holding him. Shannon was leaning against the van wall with Vinh tucked into her arm. It was an amazing two hours back to HCMC, with both boys soundly asleep almost all the way, but still somehow peeking out between slit eyelids from time to time (from a full sleep) to see if anything had changed.

Went back to the hotel, got pictures taken at the shop next door for the medical exam, and filled out the I600 visa application for submission to the Consulate. I think Anna or Thao was taking the application for submission yet today. They said that it has been taking a few days to get an interview rather than the week that we were expecting, so hopefully that is true. If so, it is much more likely that we will be able to return home early.

We got back upstairs and suddenly the room is full of cribs! Shannon was feeding Vinh and I was watching Thanh on the big bed while changing clothes, when suddenly he flipped over and started crawling toward Shannon’s black hair brush! Talk about unexpected! (I figured that wouldn’t be far away since they were already pulling up at the orphanage, but that still was not in the report that the orphanage personnel had relayed.) So far, anything black within range is automatically a toy, from socks to brushes to money clips.

We have spent almost the last two hours playing with them and getting a few pictures until I had to run out for water. (We tried to go together, but one of them did not take to the carrier, and wasn’t tolerating the stroller either. Oh yeah, Thao also bought two umbrella strollers for us on the way back – they were relatively inexpensive and will probably be donated in the end.) Sometime in there, Thanh fell asleep and Shannon put him down in one crib. Vinh has been playing still, but at one point rolled over so he was wedged against my legs and also fell asleep (in like 5 seconds). Shannon tried to move him too fast tho and woke him up, so we played some more, and now he has had a bath and finally fell sleep between us on the bed. I don’t think we will attempt to move him for a while.

Vinh is also babbling, and he clearly says ba-ba, and answers as well if he is in the mood. (I think Shannon said that Thanh had been too, although I have not observed this. I know I heard some when I was in the bathroom tho, but don’t know who it was.) They are identical, and telling them apart is difficult so far. Right now, I can tell because Vinh has some scratches on his face (from his fingernails most likely), but obviously that will only go so far. The nannies said they mostly told because Vinh’s head is flatter and Thanh’s is rounder, but we haven’t gotten proficient at this yet (especially because they were wearing hats all the way home). Thanh seems to be the more laid back, and more curious. I can tell that he is going to get into more than his share of trouble. Vinh seems less comfortable with the situation and seems a little more stressed by it. We have also been watching for dominant hand indicators (since identical twins should have one left hand, one right hand in the pair, this should be the sure way to always tell them apart), but have not identified them as of yet. Not surprising as I would imagine they wouldn’t be that prevalent until some of the small muscle coordination develops.

Tomorrow’s agenda: medical exam, and not sure what else. It’s a little more reasonable start time at 8am, and I’m guessing it won’t take long and that will be it for the day. Now it’s 5:45pm, and I think I am going to try to sleep a little before pulling pictures off the camera. We are going to try to email some home to arrive as early morning as we can manage, but right now it’s just been a very long day (pretty much 36 hours for me).

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