Interacting with China and the Chinese, by Marie Bartlett-Sloan

Marie Bartlett-Sloan and her husband Kirby have adopted three little girls from China, most recently a 2 year old this past July. They were in the third group from the Chicago area to travel to China in 1994 after the Chinese government reopened for international adoption.  Marie wrote her ‘travel tips’ webpage to ease the way for those also planning to adopt from China.  

First of all, relax. You aren’t going to Mars.  You’re only going to China.

Best thing you can do is educate yourself before you go.

Read as much as you can about China on all topics -- history, geography, culture, language, economics, agriculture, music, literature, religion, day to day life. It will enrich your experience and understanding of the country tremendously. China is awash in symbolism.  Even a window or a brick has a story to tell if you can read it. 

Remember, China isn’t Mars, but it IS another culture, and a very rich one.  Discard your American/Western point of view and open your mind. It is so easy for us to see something and interpret it from an American point of view, sometimes erroneously. As an example, one adoptive father told us of going to the orphanage (back in 1994 or 95) to receive their daughter. He said it was at the very end of a narrow alley. I realized later he had described a hutong. A hutong is small dead end lane or street lined on both sides and at the end with small single (extended) family homes. The walls of the homes and gardens touch so there is only one entrance or exit to the community. And community it is, for families live in their homes for generations. So, was the orphanage hidden away at the end of an alley, or placed in the middle of a community? A very important difference!

Please be on your best manners all the time to everyone

, no matter how tired, frustrated or confused you may be. Some of the officials you will meet during the adoption process may not speak English in front of you but that does not mean that they don't understand what you say. (The most popular TV show for years has been an English class.) If you say "This place is a dump" in front of them, it may not go over well. Remember, they are the ones doing you the favor, not the other way around. And remember that others want to come after you.

Remember your sense of humor

. We found China to be full of wonderful people and wild contradictions. Roll with the surprises and the inconveniences, none of which were any worse than anything you might have experienced at summer camp.

Relax and enjoy.

If you are the sort that always has to be in charge, give it a rest. It will be strange enough to be in a country where you can't speak or read the language, without trying to maintain command. Let your guide guide you and sort out the paperwork, the bills, and the steps. You just relax and follow along like a little lamb. Save your energy for the baby. She's more fun.

Chinese public toilets:

Brace yourself. Bring your own paper. Standard fee is about 3 jiao (about 2 cents). Some have Western plumbing of greater or lesser age. Some have stalls with a hole in the floor to squat over. Some have a gutter in the floor that you straddle and no stalls. Have fun.

Heating and air conditioning:

You'll find it in your hotel, some of the more modern buildings, and some tourist attractions, but don't expect to find it anywhere else. Traditionally, the Chinese do not heat their homes and offices south of the Yangtse River. North of the Yangtse, homes are sometimes heated with charcoal braziers. (Now you know why they wear all that quilted clothing.) When we were in Nanjing in January, 1996, it was in the 20's, and people had their apartment windows open. We wore all our winter clothes in the government offices where we signed the adoption papers. In Shanghai, when we saw acrobats perform, I kept my hat, gloves, coat and scarf on through the whole performance, it was so cold in the theater. Therefore, you can assume that is the case in your child's orphanage or foster home. That's why babies are bundled up to the point they can't move in the winter. They need to be kept warm and not toss off their blankets. Even in the summer, your child may be wearing several layers of clothes. They are used to it. We underdress our kids in comparison. (see Clothing Police, below) So, once you receive your child, TAKE IT EASY ON THE HEAT OR AC IN YOUR HOTEL ROOM, AND LEAVE SOME CLOTHES ON THEM!! Your child will probably catch a cold anyway, but a moderate room temperature may at least lessen its severity.

Clothing Police:

If you are receiving an infant or small toddler, you will meet them. They are the little old ladies who come up to you on the street, curious about your child. They will pull back the blanket and peer at her face. They will zip up zippers, rewrap scarves, pull up socks, pull down pants legs, and generally cluck and fuss about. Please be sure to put socks and shoes on your child even if it is 100 degrees. Keep a hat on her head. And above all, smile and be grateful for their attention. It is kind and sincere. I was fussed over by 3 little old ladies at the Temple of the Jade Buddha in Shanghai. You would have thought we were their own daughter and granddaughter, they were so pleased and happy. Our translator said they kept saying "Lucky baby!" and "Happy mother!" I could only smile broadly and say "shay shay" (thank you) a lot. It is one of my fondest memories of China.

Language tape pronunciation is for Beijing.

As we went south, we could not make ourselves understood. Additionally, folks in Guangzhou and Hong Kong speak Cantonese rather than Mandarin. Bring a phrase book and point. Everyone can read the characters, no matter what they speak. If you are adopting a toddler or older child, be sure to learn words like mommy, daddy, potty, eat, sleep, yes, no, etc.

There's a fee for everything in China.

That which would be covered by public taxes here is covered by individual fees there, as in toilets, parks, airport tax, etc. Carry enough yuan and jiao, but remember you must convert it before you leave because you can't take it out of the country.


ALWAYS, ALWAYS carry a camera and plenty of film with you, no matter what you are doing or where you are going.  There is always something or someone interesting around the next corner.  The instant you don’t you’ll regret it.


DO walk around. Visit the nearby parks, museums and shops. You will find the people friendly and nice. The Chinese do not have the same sense of space that we have, and will sometimes literally be in your face. Get someone to write a note for you in Chinese that says that your baby is an orphan and you are adopting her so you can show the note to folks. We got nothing but handshakes and smiles and thumbs up from all that we met. It was great. In Guangzhou, be sure to check out the Qing Ping market, which is near the White Swan Hotel. Always take a card with the hotel's name and address on it in Chinese when you leave your hotel. You can get this at the front desk, or grab a piece of stationery.


Practice this phrase -- BOO YOW! Say it firmly. It means "do not want" (Literally bu=negative yao=want) You will need to say it often at the tourist attractions. That said, if you see something you like, buy it because you will not see it again on your trip, you won't find it cheaper in the US, and you will not be able to go back again and get it later.


The Chinese have a pleasant habit of giving small presents to visitors, much as we would give a baseball cap to a friend. It is nice to return the compliment to those who have helped you in the adoption process. In the past, people have given perfume, cosmetics, scarves, cassette music tapes, postcards, souvenirs of your own town or state, Bulls (Michael Jordan) stuff, chocolate, pens. Please don't give anything that was made in China. Check with your agency and recently returned parents for more suggestions. I kept a stash individually wrapped hard candies handy in my camera bag at all times for kids on the street.