Here are a few thoughts about our trip:
Last summer, I took my 8 and 10 year old daughters on the Heritage Tour sponsored by CCCWA/BLAS and coordinated by CCAI. We had a fabulous time. We toured many spectacular sites, learned a lot more about Chinese culture and history, ate really well, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. But, by far, the best aspect of our visit to China was the personal knowledge my girls gained about their birth country. Unfortunately, my children have heard some untrue and unflattering comments about China. They now have the experience to understand how uneducated these comments are and the confidence to share their own knowledge of China. They've been, they've seen, and they know in their hearts the greatness of their heritage. This is not something I could instill in my children by taking them to Chinese New Year celebrations, the Asian art museum and showing Gong Li movies. They are now proud to be from China. I believe this was an invaluable gift to give my children.
Some specific comments:
My girls did fine on this trip. I was worried that my younger daughter might be a little young to appreciate what she was experiencing. This was not the case. I do think, however, that the busy schedule might be difficult for almost anyone younger than eight. We live in a mild climate and my girls were not prepared for the heat and humidity of Beijing in July. We brought sprayers and fans, but the heat greatly diminished their enjoyment of some tours, especially the Forbidden City. The highlights of the tour for my daughters were different than mine and also different than what I would have expected for them. Both girls name the same top highlight of the trip: meeting my older daughter's foster family. Those personal connections were so important to them. I don't think it had to be a foster family. It it was spending time with a family, visiting their home and getting to know them a bit. It was special. We visited both girls' orphanage. Those were also on the highlight list and did not cause undue anguish for my family. I think they answered some as-yet unformed questions for the girls. We were also able to visit the provincial capital cities where we first met the girls. Visiting the hotels where we stayed on the adoption visits (and took lots of photos) was unexpectedly important to our family. With a few exceptions, other highlights named by my girls were activities or tours that weren't really on our radar screen before the trip, such as: riding bikes on the Xi'an city wall, cooking class in Yangshuo, country tour in Yangshuo, playing Mah Jong at a tea house in a Chengdu city park. They were very impressed by the Great Wall. My top highlights were the Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, the visit to an ancient city near Chengdu, the rickshaw tour of a Hutong district, and the country tour in Yangshuo. This is not to say we didn't love other tours and activities. We did. And I would have been disappointed to miss any of them. But unanticipated (sometime optional) tours revealed some absolutely great gems. The after dinner shows were also very worthwhile. I had thought my girls would focus on the differences between our home and China. They totally focussed on the similarities. I couldn't believe how many times I heard, "This is just like home!" It seems they had developed some alternate concept of what it would be like in China. I spent a good deal of time pointing out interesting differences between the countries.
A few tips:
In general, the pre-trip information supplied me with what I needed to know.
My girls would do anything as long as I promised them at least a half hour in the pool before bedtime. (Pool = great bribe)
Make sure to check all your credit cards for the best foreign exchange rates, foreign atm withdrawal charges and fees, etc. before you leave home.
Crystal lite. Lots of it. I have trouble getting my girls to drink much water. They needed it in China. I wasn't about to buy them a lot of soda. I thought Crystal Lite was a reasonable compromise while on vacation. We boiled water in our room, refilled used water bottles and kept them in the little fridge.
Be prepared for rain. Heat and rain.
Be prepared to explain some less-than-stellar behavior among the group of kids. Kids will be kids and in a big group, there's generally one or two . . .
China in-country luggage weight restrictions are much less than those for international travel. And they enforced it. Be prepared for the weight of all those souvenirs you didn't know you wanted until you get there.
Be prepared for the experience of a lifetime.