Rambling, Post China Thoughts
By Brenda Fung
Updated September 7, 2004
Ok, not in any particular order, here are some thoughts after our August 2003 trip:
1. Bring the money as suggested. If you don't want to carry the emergency medical money, make darn sure it's available. As some of you may know, one of our families got stuck in China, with medical bills and double hotel costs. Read the money list carefully and exactly follow the instructions. I would suggest using the envelope system, where every cent you need is accounted for in separate envelopes. That way you don't panic when you get there. Read the instructions you are provided with respect to the condition of the US $100 bills. They must be in good condition. They donít have to be new, but no tears, no ink or writing on them and no creases. Think about this in advance and start collecting now. Explain to the bank what you need and donít be afraid to stand at the counter examining each bill and deciding which ones to keep and which ones to reject.
2. Bring the meds suggested. Emily had a bit of a cough, and I treated her with Dimetapp. She also had sticky eyes, suggestive of conjuctivitis, so we treated them with the drops Dr. Welsford recommended at pre-travel. Also, Emily was teething while we were in China, so we used the infant Tylenol. Just watch the dosage based on their weight.
3. Don't bring too many baby supplies, but bring some. Although what was said at our pre-travel was correct, you can buy anything in China, you won't necessarily get a chance to shop for the first couple of days. Our guide organized a baby shopping day, but it was the third day in China, so it was good we had diapers, formula, etc., to get us through the first two. We kept Emily on the Chinese formula she was used to until we got home. We were able to buy it easily in Guangdong province where she is from, but couldn't find it in Beijing. The hotels in Beijing (you'll probably stay in one of the two that are side-by-side) are close to a large grocery store, but they don't carry much Chinese formula, more North American stuff, because it's considered better. Our hotel in Guangdong had a 7-11 store attached to the side, so we could pick up bottles, formula, diapers, whatever, but at the typical convenience store, higher price. I would suggest that you bring at least 20 diapers, if you plan to buy more there. I took size 3 diapers, and Emily was 11 Ĺ months old. They were ok, but when we got home, we bought some size 2 because she had a tiny bum.
4. Take the adult medicines suggested. Although Danny and I had no stomach troubles, one of the families did and we were glad to have lots of Immodium to share around.
5. If you wear contacts, take your glasses and spare contacts. We both wore our glasses on the flight, but carried contacts in our carry on so that we could change to contacts before landing. This worked well.
6. I would suggest that a full size backpack makes a great diaper bag/carry on. I used it the whole time we were in China as a diaper bag and then as my carry-on on our trip home. The trip home is long...about 20hours start to finish, so you need to carry lots of diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, and a change of clothes.
7. If you can get some RMB before leaving Toronto, do it. When the group arrived in China, they had 10 minutes to get ready to get on the bus to get the babies. They didn't have a chance to check in, change money, or anything else. It was hectic and then once we had the babies, forget it.
8. Make sure you copy and carry all the documents listed in the pre-travel kit. I bought a plastic file folder with compartments and used it the whole time. It proved to be perfect. I also photocopied the itinerary, hotel info., Marriott hotel points info, emergency contact info, etc., and carried all of it with us. The copy of the emergency info proved invaluable since our group leaders were taken out of commission when their baby got ill and they were the only other ones with that info. In addition to the info listed, our guide asked us each for 4 copies of the Visa page of our passports. Although the pre-travel kit said to have copies of the photo pages, it didn't mention the Visa page. It was quite expensive to get this done at the business centre in the hotel, so you might want to do it before you leave.
9. Leave very early to go to the airport on your departure day. Danny and I were at the airport at 5:30am for our 8:45am departure and were about 200th in line. It was terrible. Air Canada was very disorganized.
10. Try to set up a website that you can post updates to. We've had so many friends and family tell us how special ours was to them. Danny emailed a daily update, with photos, to someone here in Toronto, who posted them to the site. The internet service in the hotels was slow but it worked consistently.
11. Don't bother carrying a book, you won't have time to read. Don't bother with many toys. You could bring a couple of small, rattly type toys, something bright in colour. There is every chance your daughter will prefer a water bottle, anyway.
12. We brought a Snugli and bought a stroller in China. Emily used the Snugli constantly but hated the stroller. We wasted our money on the stroller. Having said that, when we return for daughter #2, I will bring both again, because you just never know.
13. Don't bother carrying food with you. You might want to bring instant coffee packages with you. Nescafe sells pre-packaged little kits with coffee, sugar, and whitener all in one. You can actually get them in Guangdong but not Beijing. Our hotel in Guangdong gave us the same ones I had brought, but the Beijing hotel only offered tea.
14. Bring a package of the little individual Kleenex packs. You will need them. Most public washrooms in China do not have toilet paper. You'll get in the habit of carrying them with you wherever you go. You can buy more in China, but will need them the day you arrive. I don't recommend the fancy brands with lotion...they're less absorbent. Buy the cheapest ones you can find.
15. Ziploc bags are your friend. I took this advice and went to Costco and bought a box of the large size Ziploc storage bags. You don't need the freezer ones and they cost more. Pack the bags in your suitcase and then carry them with you wherever you go. Stinky diapers on a bus or in your backpack if you're out sightseeing are not nice. We even used them in the hotel room garbage because we found that our room was starting to smell like pee.
16. Do not drink tap water, under any circumstances, unless you've boiled it yourself. You should ask the hotel for a kettle for your room if there isn't one already in there. Our room in Beijing came with one, but we had to ask for one in Guangzhou. Do not assume that the "boiled" water they will happily bring you has actually been to a full boil. We went to 7-11 and bought bottled water (very cheap, but stick to Watson's or a brand you know). We kept one big bottle in the bathroom for brushing our teeth and one in the bar fridge. We used boiled hot water, mixed with room temperature bottled water to feed Emily. We didn't bother "sterilizing" her bottles. When I thought about her upbringing so far, I figured it couldnít be a problem and she's been fine.
17. In China, we bought one of those plastic round hanger things where you can hang some hand washed items. It was a great idea. It only cost about $10rmb ($2cdn) and we used it the whole trip. It meant I could wash underwear and Emily's little things and not pay for laundry costs. Our own clothes were mostly laundered but it does get expensive. You should budget about $200rmb in province and again in Beijing for some laundry. I had brought a small Tupperware type container of Tide with me, and you can buy more there.
18. I brought one dress outfit and didn't use it. Everything was very informal. Shorts and running shoes the whole time. I wore long pants once, when we did the paperwork for Emily, more out of respect than necessity. Bring very casual clothing only. Also, pay attention to the advice and only bring one really comfortable pair of shoes. I brought two pairs and only wore one.
19. Instead of the receiving blankets suggested, bring one good "blankie" for baby. I brought both. Emily loves to be cuddled in the one from Gymboree and I never used the receiving blankets. She still loves the pink blankie best, even now that we're home and she has many others.
20. I brought 4 bottles to China. I brought 2 small ones (4oz) and 2 big ones (8oz). I found this to be a good idea since sometimes Emily would only take a half bottle and rather than waste the whole thing, I could use the small one. If I found she ate the small one really fast, I'd offer her another small one, but often one small one was enough. I bought two more large bottles in China. When we thought about the trip home, I realized that for 20+hours we were going to need a few more. I pre-measured formula into them so that I only had to add water on the plane. We bought a thermos in China Ė a very valuable item. We used it every single day when we went sightseeing/office/medical/out to dinner, etc. You should buy only a stainless steel one, no glass. Tim Hortons sells one and I found the same size and shape one at Loblaws, made by Thermos brand for $14.99. Don't buy one that's too big because you need to carry it in your diaper bag.
21. Stay away from fresh fruits. I know that they say you can eat fruit if you've pealed it, but I stayed away from all fresh fruit and had absolutely no stomach troubles, while others suffered. I ate food from the street market at night in Beijing and still didn't get sick, but absolutely no fresh fruit.
22. Bring a small baby spoon with you. I forgot ours and had to buy one there. Emily wouldn't take food from a spoon after all that, but a few of the babies did.
23. Both our hotels provided ample toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and soap that you don't need to carry any of that. As promised, both hotels had hair dryers, too.
24. When your guide takes you shopping for things like jade or pearls, don't be afraid to ask him/her if you can bargain. They will give you an idea how much leeway to expect. When you shop in Silk Alley in Beijing, take their asking price and divide by 10!!! Yes, 10!!! Trust me.
25. I didn't bother bringing dish detergent, just washed the bottles out in the sink. I was making Emily's bottles with half boiling water and half room temperature bottled water. Before we left the hotel to go anywhere, I measured formula into a few bottles and then carried a thermos of boiling water and a bottle of water we bought. Then I could make up bottles on the go, quickly.
26. Bring two cheap change pads (Wal-Mart is good for these); one for the hotel room and the other for your diaper bag. You can either throw them out when you get home, or wash and use them more.
27. For the baby, bring two-piece outfits more than one piece. Most of the babies (Emily included) were not as large as we expected and it's easier to adjust two-piece outfits. I brought about 6 onsies and then a few pairs of stretchy pants for over them. It was easy to mix and match and hand wash the stuff. Frankly, most nights Emily slept in the onsie. Changing her was a screaming session (her, not me) so most nights if we got her to sleep at all, it was still in the onsie. I wish I hadn't bothered with all the sleepers I carried. Bring socks too, because their feet get cold. Don't bother bringing shoes, you can buy beautiful leather baby shoes very cheaply in China and you won't know the size until you get the baby anyway.
28. I brought 60 diapers with me and a whole big package of wipes. Too many wipes, not enough diapers if I wanted to rely on them the whole trip. The diapers were good because we didn't get to shop too soon, and I wish I had carried half as many wipes. Wipes are surprisingly heavy, too, so this would have helped with our packing situation. Diapers are easily bought in China...same brands as here, and same sizes. Wipes were available, but not the same ones as here. I bought a package of Chinese Pampers and used them the rest of the trip and they were just fine.
29. Have someone in the group bring a cell phone and make sure its a GSM phone and will work in China. Our phone proved invaluable to us and to the family that had the emergency with the baby.
30. Don't feel obligated to do the tours each day. Yes, I know, it's your first and maybe only trip to China, but frankly it's a lot to look after your new baby and go touring too. We did all the tours but in hindsight, think we should have skipped a couple of them.
31. We didn't bother buying a plane ticket for Emily for the trip home. Actually, we decided we couldn't justify the huge additional cost to buy one. We were glad we didn't because she wouldn't have sat it in anyway. She did sleep part of the flight but only attached to me, not on her own.
32. In Beijing, if you are staying at either Jinglun hotel or Jian Guo hotel, there is a large Canadian style grocery store very close by where you can buy just about anything. It's called CRC and it's located on the lower level of the shopping concourse attached to the World Trade Centre apartments, just about half a block from the hotels. There is also Starbucks Coffee, if you're inclined. There is a Pizza Hut restaurant right in Jinglun Hotel and there is Kentucky Fried Chicken about half a block away, and of course McDonalds is half block in the opposite direction. So, if any of you aren't into Chinese food, you have other options. If youíre staying at the Novotel there is a pedestrian-only shopping street called Wangfujing very close by that you can get anything at.
33. Finally, once you know which cities you will be in, visit the China National Tourism office at 480 University Avenue in Toronto. Their website is: http://www.tourismchina-ca.com/ You can now even order the info online, but I would encourage you to visit their office if possible...they have tons of free info and maps available. About a month ago, I tested the online ordering and everything I asked for came in under a week.
34. Read and make sure you understand the luggage restrictions. They are different for your flights to and from Canada than they are for your in-China flights. The Air Canada website provides specific criteria for your luggage. You are even entitled to bring one suitcase for your new child on the ride home, even if they donít have a ticketed seat. From the Air Canada website:
ďAir Canada and its regional carriers allow each customer to bring along two pieces of luggage which is carried in the baggage compartment of the aircraft at no charge. This is known as the 'free checked baggage allowance'. The overall measurement of each piece (L + W + H) must be less than 62 inches or 158 cm, and the weight less than 70 lbs. or 32 kg. Don't exceed these limits or you'll have to pay an additional amount at the airport prior to travel. Note that checked baggage weighing more than 100 lbs or 45 kg. will not be accepted. Please contact the nearest Air Canada Cargo office.
Infants not occupying a seat are allowed one smaller 70 lb. piece with an overall measurement of no more than 45 ins. or 115 cm. Air Canada also carries the following baby equipment in the baggage compartment, free of charge: car seat, baby seat, bassinet and stroller.Ē
On your in-China flight you are limited to 20kgs of luggage each. This is a lot less than you are allowed on the international legs so you need to plan for this.
Some families accommodate this difference (if they are flying into Beijing) by leaving some luggage at their Beijing hotel and retrieving it when they get back to Beijing.
Long and the short of it is that only you can know your child, your situation, and your finances well enough to make this choice. You should neither feel pressured to take your child, nor to leave the child home. What is right for our family may not be right for another. We did have a three-year-old travel with our first China group and she did incredibly well, but it was still a tough time for her.
Foods for Toddlers:
Tipping and Gifts:
Read the info carefully and donít worry about gifts. They are small, insignificant and shouldnít cost much money. They are intended to be tokens. You arenít going to be judged as parents, based on your gifts. The easiest approach for any travel group is to collect money from everyone (and no one can opt out) and then buy one set of gifts. The list of gifts is no longer daunting. If you are intending on making donations of clothing or toys, they must be brand new, and should be bought in China to be appropriate styles.
Tipping of the driver/guide:
Again, there are guidelines given to you in the booklet. You MUST contribute to the tip for the driver each day. Since you will likely have a different driver each day, the group leaders should collect each morning at breakfast or the evening before. Each family should come prepared with either small US bills, or you can use RMB. We were encouraged to tip either $1USD or $10RMB each day.
Tipping your guide is a little more of a personal choice in terms of amount, but NOT OPTIONAL. It is expected that each family will tip the guide. Our group used the CB guidelines, but then each family decided what amount to give. We had taken a small gift to give the guide from our family and just put the tip in an envelope with it.
Fly into Beijing, from Toronto, via Vancouver
Fly from Beijing to childís province, stay about 5 or 6 days
Fly from childís province back to Beijing, stay about 6 or 7 days
Fly from Beijing to Toronto, via Vancouver
While in province, most days include some paperwork. Either for the provincial authority, the childís passport application, adoption finalization papers.
While in Beijing there is less paperwork, but still some. Canadian visa application, including taking photos.
Most days, touring takes up half day at most. Arrange to meet around 9:30am, tour or do paperwork until noon or 1:00 and then afternoons free time or some paperwork. Dinner time and evenings always free time for us.