Saturday, August 17, 2013

Thailand adoption challenges

(See October 2013 update at end of post)

I was recently contacted by a couple who live in Thailand and want to adopt a Thai child. Their questions were typical: Do we have to go through an agency? Are we too old to adopt? Where do we start? I have not shared our experiences yet, as I wanted to be sure that we completed everything and had the final adoption papers before sharing the joys and the frustrations of the process. Truthfully, the joy came only at the end; the frustrations were frequent and often discouraging. Here is an edited version of the reply I sent:

I have two adopted Thai daughters, one now 23, the other, 9. Each experience was very different from the other.

First, private adoption in Thailand is not possible. You may find some agency that will help, but ultimately you MUST go through social services (Department of Social Development and Welfare, or DPW--department of public welfare as it is commonly called) to finalize any adoption. An agency may be able to speed things up; it may be worthwhile to find out, but they will of course charge a fee for their services. For my first adoption (this was in 1989), we were asked to adopt a baby girl; the mother contacted us through friends. The mother was staying at a women's shelter. However, we had to go through the DPW for everything. It went rather quickly (5 months), as we did all the leg work, taking papers to various places to be signed, and we had a Thai friend helping us with translation issues. If we had not done so much of the traveling, who knows how long it would have taken? The adoption center is not known for its efficiency. However, everyone's experience is different. And, as I said, an agency may be able to do all that legwork. However, I am not sure that they work with in-country adoptions.

The laws have tightened since then, and it is not unusual for an adoption to take 3 years, although it could easily be done in one. It is now a legal requirement that adoptions take longer than a year, as the family records and child history must be thoroughly checked. This is a safety measure for several reasons, including wanting to be sure the child is not being "trafficked". Apparently, even an abandoned child may be "reclaimed" by the family (it doesn't have to be a parent) up to 364 days after being given up. It took us 3 1/2 years this time. The social workers are overworked and the offices understaffed, so it can be frustratingly slow. To underscore this, more children come into the system each year than are placed with adoptive parents, so the number of children waiting to be adopted is increasing. This is so very frustrating, as there are prospective parents around the world who would love to share their home with a Thai orphan or abandoned child. 

Adoptions in Thailand cost no money, except for paperwork processing fees at the end, so beware of anyone who says they can help you for a fee. (I still question the exorbitant fees charged by agencies out of other countries who assist in the process.) Your ages are not an issue. Don't believe any social worker who tells you differently. It seems that some social workers will tell a prospective parent that he or she is "too old"--in one such case one of the parents was 50. I was 62 for the latest adoption! So, there is no rule: that social worker formed a personal opinion, and simply made up the requirement. 

To show how slow the process is, we adopted a beautiful, smart Thai girl, who was 8 1/2 years old, and had been in foster care for 7 1/2 years! And, we were told that girls are hard to find. I still cannot understand why it took so long to place her. She was available at one year of age! You can speed up the process ("speed" being a relative term here) if you are willing to accept "hard to place" children, such as older kids or those with disabilities.

Your social worker is also important. Unfortunately, ours was not very competent, and not at all efficient, but you take what you can get. You just have to stay on top of things, and keep sending emails or calling to check on the progress. For example, for several months, we simply did not hear from our social worker. When we called or sent an email to check on things, I would receive a reply stating that "the board wants to know..." such irrelevant things as "How much money does your daughter in the U.S. make?" or some months later, "Is your daughter a Thai or American citizen?" (Uh oh, is there a correct answer to this?) Often I would get questions that I had already answered. This went on for nearly a year. At the time, I thought maybe she was just hoping we would give up.

We were not given much notice when we were matched with our daughter. It just came out of the blue. It was somewhat unbelievable, as we were getting used to being put on hold. We met our lovely daughter one day before taking her home. As mentioned before, she had been living with the same foster family for more than seven years, and then was taken without much warning by two foreigners to their home in Bangkok. It was pretty upsetting for her. I keep wondering what people do who take an older child out of Thailand, and who do not speak Thai. I can't imagine the emotional upheaval. In our case, we were fortunate to be able to speak Thai--our daughter spoke no English--and we live in a Thai neighborhood. Even so, the transition was very difficult. Why had she been in a foster home for that long? It was the only family she had known. It was painful to watch the goodbyes.

Again, this was only one experience. Yours may be much smoother.

So, back to the matter at hand: you want to adopt a child from Thailand.

Your first move is to make an appointment with Social services at the Child adoption department on Rajwithi Road near Victory Monument in Bangkok. You can reach them by email (they may respond quickly, maybe not) at Or, just go to the center, located at 255 Ratchawithi (Rajvithi) Road. It is near the Payathai Home for Girls, which taxi drivers may know better. Don't call--you MAY reach a social worker, but also may just be put on hold until you hang up. Sometimes you get lucky and reach a social worker who speaks English.

Here are some links that may help (one has a map for the adoption center):

Update October 10, 2013: Now in the process of moving to The U.S., we are finding more challenges, particularly getting an immigrant visa. If a child is adopted IN COUNTRY, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must review the case and make a decision about whether the child qualifies for an immigrant visa. According to the Hague Convention Agreement, an adopted child must live for two years with the adoptive parents before being considered for an immigrant visa (our daughter has not yet met this requirement). Stay tuned: we are in the process of finding out exactly what options we have.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Moments in time

We often look for, and as a result only see, the "big pictures" in life. We then miss the small details, or subconsciously ignore what may seem commonplace.

Seeing double. These boys were taking a beak from their job of waving advertising flags on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. They reminded me of organ grinder capuchin monkeys.

I find I've amassed quite a number of these "moments in time" that at the time caught my eye, but then had been relegated to nearly forgotten files. As I looked through them, however, I was taken by the many subtleties of the beautiful and the repulsive, the plain and the elegant, the commonplace and the quirky, all aspects of culture in both the city and countryside of Thailand. Here they are, some simple yet often compelling fragments of scenes from my walk through Thai life.
(Photos by the author, all rights reserved. Do not use without permission.)

All over Bangkok one sees twisted masses of electrical wire, coiled and bound together.
When new wires are needed, they are simply added to the tangle.
Despite its dangerous appearance, it appears to work just fine...most of the time.

The monsoon season runs from May to November. Even rains of short duration often are heavy, flooding streets and making travel difficult. Here students negotiate a flooded street near their school in eastern Bangkok.

A forgotten house gate pillar on Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok.

What may seem to westerners as an unfortunate, or perhaps spicy name for a spa, "Porn" is actually quite a common name in Thailand. Poorly transliterated originally, the spelling persists. The name is pronounced "Pohn".
Tibetan theme on a neighbor's gate.

I'm not going to get the ball. YOU get the ball!

Scene from a restaurant along a village klong (canal) in eastern Bangkok.

Trucks and buses are often moving art canvases.

All rice is not the same. Some regions are well known for the high quality of their rice and this is reflected in the price.

Portable monk: blessings delivered to you. Bangkapi.

A clever advertising scheme for a pub in Pattaya.
They will take good care of him alright.

Beached European tourists. Jomtien.

An act from a Thai upcountry-style disco in Minburi.

Many cities are famous for their "red light" districts and night clubs. It can be argued that all of Bangkok should be considered such a district. Above is Soi Cowboy near Asoke and Sukhumvit Roads, one of the city's better known "entertainment" areas.

A converted VW van, now a mobile bar. Sukhumvit Soi 11, Bangkok.

The town of Minburi in eastern Bangkok Province displays its loyalty to Thailand's popular monarch with ornate overhead pedestrian walkways.
Restaurant wall detail.

Fruit syrups for making sweet drinks.

In a restaurant in eastern Bangkok. Do not ask: I don't know.

Sidewalk preparation of loogtan, a sweet seasonal fruit for sale at a local market.

Ramkhamhaeng Road

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Phasa Rains Retreat in Thailand ("Lent")

Vassa (from the ancient Pali language) is the annual three month "rains retreat" observed by Buddhists, especially for monks and other serious practitioners of traditional Theravada Buddhism. It is sometimes referred to by westerners as "Buddhist Lent" because many lay people choose to give up consumption of a particular substance (smoking, drinking alcohol) or food, such as meat. However, Buddhists do not call it "Lent". In Thailand, it is known as Phasa.

Phasa begins with throngs of people turning out at local "wats" (temples) to give alms to monks, receive blessings and seek guidance from fortune tellers. It is a swirl of activity, solemnity mixed with a carnival-like atmosphere lasting at least until midnight. Crowds of a hundred or more walk three times around the wat in a continuous candle-lit procession; a steady stream of newcomers take the place of those leaving. Nearby, food vendors offer a staggering variety of food and drink.

At the last moment, I decided to stop at a nearby wat (actually two wats across a klong (canal) from each other, to witness one of Thailand's biggest holiday celebrations. I was captivated by the colors, the smells, the smoke of incense hanging in the air, the calls of vendors hawking wares, monks chanting, and fascinating ancient rituals that are carried on today.

As is often the case in this easternmost town in Bangkok province, I was privileged to be the sole westerner (in a crowd of at least a thousand) that witnessed the celebration. Westerners are not uncommon here, but for some reason do not usually show up in the outer reaches of Bangkok to experience Thailand's rich cultural and religious festivals right in their "back yard".

Celebrants pay 20 baht (US 60 cents) for a candle, three incense sticks and a bouquet of orchids to carry with them and give as offerings at the entrance to the wat.

After circling the wat three times, the candle and incense are placed in sand-filled troughs; the flowers are placed in a pile at either end near the steps to the wat.
A tradition in Thailand is the making of very large candles that are given to the monks. Here people take turns dipping long ladles into melted wax and filling a candle mold.

One way to "make merit" is to release confined animals, such as birds (paying for the opportunity of course). At this wat, all of the animals were aquatic: frogs, fish, eels and turtles. Here they await the kind-hearted to release them into the nearest body of water (the klong a few meters away).

Although no alcohol can be bought in shops or grocery stores on this day, an enterprising woman set up her mobile converted Volkswagon bar and sold mixed drinks (just outside the wat walls of course). Here I enjoy a gin drink with fruit soda. Delicious, even though perhaps sacrilegious.