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Stories from the Red Couch

Updated: 2017-03-15 Source:Radio Guangdong's English Service Author:intern
Stories from the Red Couch
By George McKibbens
George:
Welcome to Lingnan Voices, this is George McKibbens. Guangzhou’s Shamian Island was a joint venture between the British and French when the Treaty of Tianjian end the second Opium War, a foreign concession connected to the city with two footbridges, but cut off in every way from Chinese society. Operating at one time with an apartheid system where locals were allowed in only as servants to the Europeans. Professor Tang Guohua of Guangzhou University explains.
Tang Guohua:
There are two bridges here, Chinese would come to prepare food and do laundry.


George:
In 1983 Hong Kong entrepreneur Henry Fok made a bold investment erecting a five star hotel, a modernist design towering over the island and wrapping an exclusive driveway for guests around the face of the former French post office. A symbol of modern decadence swallowing it’s colonial past. An irony is that this hotel received landmark status in 2012 becoming Guangzhou’s youngest historic building. In the 1980s and early 1990s it hosted some of China’s most high profile guests such as Queen Elizabeth and Bill Gates. It’s lobby has an iconic fountain with jade and ivory sculptures but most intriguing is the lobby’s red couch. Which still sits in the corner, representing Chinese American families.


Early Construction of the White Swan Hotel
In 1990 the US Consulate relocated next to the decadent White Swan Hotel at 1 Shamian South Street, next door to the hotel and in 1992 Guangzhou became the central city for all US-China Adoption processing. This hotel is a place that has transformed people’s lives in both countries. As depicted in the 2005 National Geographic Documentary, ‘China’s Lost Girls.’
China’s Lost Girls:
“My mommy says that I was born in someone else’s stomach in China and then I came to America.”
George
The story became so familiar a children’s book was published titled, “The White Swan Express” . American adoptive parents would typically rent a room at the White swan, and the staff were very accommodating. It became ritual for parents to take photos with their children on the lobby’s red couch. Manager at the White Swan Echo Zhang explains.
Echo Zhang  VO
Usually they would come and stay five to seven days. It took that long to finish the adoption process. The US Consulate was right next door so it was very convenient for our guests. Also Shamian island is a great environment.


George
When asked about the importance off the red couch she explains.
Echo Zhang
It was already in the lobby just for guests to relax. Since guests were arriving in groups they wanted to take group photos and quickly started piling on the couch together with their babies. Often they would line each baby in a row together for a group photo.


Children and adoptive parents pose for photos on the red couch
 
George
Cathleen Samborski of Worcester, Massachusetts was kind enough to share her story with us.
Cathleen Samborski
Our journey started in 1995 when on November 1st when my husband Charles and I received a 5 by 5 centimeter black photo from the Chinese ministry of adoption, and in February we travelled to China via Hong Kong to meet out daughter in Fuzhou, and then we travelled to Guangzhou to go the American Consulate. We were fortunate enough to stay in the White Swan for one week because we had difficulty getting a ticket home because of the lunar new year. So it was wonderful to spend the lunar new year at the White Swan with our new daughter and enjoy the gift of parenting in extreme luxury. Then my next experience in Guangzhou at the White Swan was six years later we made the decision to adopt a second daughter and decided that it would truly be a blessing if our second daughter was also Chinese. So we petitioned the Chinese ministry of adoption and again we travelled to Guangzhou with both our daughters. I have a picture of our two daughters sitting at a little table in our room at the White Swan.
George
Today these Chinese Children have grown up and have retraced their history, back to China. One recent high profile story is Ricki Mudd who’s story was published in the Washington Post in 2015. Here she is an interview talking about her own personal identity.
Ricki Mudd
People ask me weather I believe I’m Chinese or American and it really comes down to, well, I’m both and I kind of get the privilege to pick and choose.
George
Like Ricki , the White Swan Hotel has two identities. In China it’s a symbol of elegance and a throwback to the 1980s reform era. While overseas it’s known as the threshold where Chinese American families began their lives.
Echo Zhang
For us this hotel has important history. 33 years may not seem like a long time. I’ve been here 13 years. People ask me why I want to stay in the same hotel so long, I say that’s nothing my colleagues have been here 20 years or more.
George
Today shamian island has more wedding photographers than baby strollers. Young couples faun over the western architecture with little understand or interest in the island’s complex past. Shamian island has more wedding photographers than baby strollers. Young couples faun over the western architecture with little understand or interest in the island’s complex past.  Towering over it’s much older neighbors the hotel remains Guangzhou’s youngest landmark building. If you do an internet search of the hotel in English, and type the White Swan you’ll find emotional photos of the families red couch uploaded from American parents over the years. If you type the Chinese, 白天鹅宾馆, you’ll see a grand lobby. These are all stories that need to be told.