Our trip to Jessa LiSheng...
My memories of our trip to China are already a blur of images and emotions. The trip was so completely overwhelming, but I want to record and share some of our rich experience visiting China, and in particular Guangchang and the Guangchang Social Welfare Institute which was responsible for overseeing our daughter’s care during the first seven months of her life.
My family is made up of myself (Shannon), age 40; my husband Chris, age 39; and our son Colin, age 4 ½, who was adopted here in New Mexico and traveled with us. My mom, Lee, also traveled with us to China, and was a great help and an amazing trouper throughout the trip. We worked with AAC from Berthoud, Colorado to adopt our beautiful daughter, Jessa LiSheng. Our dossier arrived in China during the first week of January 2002, our referral came on February 23, 2003, and we left for China on April 2, 2003. Jessa was born on August 30, 2002, and was about 6 months old at the time of her referral. She was assigned the name Guang Li Sheng by the orphanage. All of the babies at the orphanage are assigned the surname of Guang, and “Li Sheng” translates as “prosperous beauty”. She was 7 months old when she was placed in our arms and is 10 months old now.
April 2, 2003, Wednesday
Traveling to China
After considerable worry and stress over the war in Iraq, revised BCIS fingerprint regulations, and the SARs epidemic, we departed from Albuquerque, New Mexico on the morning of Wednesday, April 2, 2003. My biggest concern was purely emotional– I wanted to be on the flight to China so that I would not be trapped on a different continent from our baby girl for even one more day. We traveled two days ahead of our agency representative and the other two families in our group so that we would have time to recover from the 14 hour time difference before introducing the newest member of our family.
We had planned to travel with my mom and Colin, but concerns about SARs brought this decision into question. After providing all of the available information about SARs to my mother, she was still on board with her plan to travel with us! Our decision regarding whether to bring Colin was more difficult. We followed the website for the Center for Disease Control, and reports from the World Health Organization. Our agency also spoke directly to people who live in Guangzhou and Jiangxi province. Based upon the information we had, we decided to bring Colin with us. We reasoned that he was more at risk statistically of being hurt in a traffic accident if we left him at home. Of course, we hadn’t yet witnessed the wild and crazy driving in China! I did buy travel medical insurance for all of us.
After spending an enjoyable afternoon with Chris’ brother, Bill, and his family in unseasonably chilly Los Angeles that Wednesday, we met up with my mother at the Los Angeles International Airport around 7:30 pm. China Southern flight 328 departed LAX at 11:30 p.m., with all of us aboard. Also traveling on the flight were three other adopting families. One family was traveling with their three year old daughter, Jing Jing, who loudly proclaimed to Colin at the airport that he could not be getting a baby sister, because only she was getting a baby sister in China! There was also a single woman traveling with her sister, and another couple from New York traveling to adopt their first child together.
We flew business-class. What an experience! The flight attendants were very accommodating, and we enjoyed comfortable, easy chair-style seats, with individual television monitors that tracked our progress up along the West Coast of North America, across the Bering Sea and down towards China. After a full meal, most of us fell asleep for 4-5 hours. My mom, who was popping 1/4 tablets of her new-found miracle sleeping prescription, Ambien, slept for most of the flight. The trip went remarkably quickly for a 15 hour flight. Between eating, playing with Colin, sleeping and watching a Korean movie (with subtitles), we were soon readying for our landing in Guangzhou at 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning, April 4, 2003.
April 4, 2003, Friday.
In Guangzhou we were met by a van from the Victory Hotel that whisked us through the not-so-sleepy city streets to the hotel. The Victory Hotel is quite posh. We were impressed by the meticulous, small hotel rooms. All of the beds were covered with down duvets with white cotton covers. We each had our own terry cloth robe and slippers and a hot pot. The beds are firmer than we are used to, but I found that my back did not ache the entire time I was in China. After a long, hot shower for the adults and a bath for Colin, we strolled around Shamian Island. We visited the outdoor playground just a few blocks away from the hotel, and noticed the number of people out exercising on the adult exercise equipment at the playground, and walking and stretching. As Colin was playing on the playground, an elderly grandma made it very clear to us that he should be wearing more than a short-sleeved T-Shirt on a cool overcast day. Although, he seemed perfectly warm and comfortable, we had experienced our first of many run-ins with the “clothing police”. In the parks there are also pathways of stones set in cement, which people walk upon in their bare or stocking feet to massage the bottom of their feet. Later, as we walked through the park, hordes of school children would wave and shout “Hello!” “Hello!” They were particularly intrigued by my 6'2" blond, green-eyed husband, and our blue-eyed, sleepy boy who was falling asleep atop his dad’s shoulders. We enjoyed watching the women practicing Tai Chi (I think?) with swords and other people practicing Tai Chi.
By noon, we were back in our rooms, and snacking on food from the local grocery/convenience store. We laid down “for a short nap”, but underestimated the effect of the time change, and found it physically impossible to get up in two hours when the alarm went off. Instead, all of us slept until midnight! We then shared an odd, long night of camping out in the hotel rooms, watching CNN coverage of the war in Iraq, and playing card games with Colin. By 6:30 on Saturday morning we were prowling the streets of Shamian Island in search of breakfast. Luckily, after an early bedtime on Saturday, we were minimally affected by jet-lag and settled into our new days and nights quite well.
April 5, 2003, Saturday
We attempted some shopping on Shamian Island on Saturday, but were overwhelmed by the hard-sell of the local shop girls. We later learned that shopping and bargaining can be fun, but it is definitely something to undertake when you are well rested! All of us walked across the busy bridge crossing the Pearl River in an effort to find a local department store. Soon, Colin was again falling asleep on his dad’s shoulders, and we decided to return to the hotel for a nap. As we were returning, we were approached by a pretty, young woman who was walking to work at a jewelry store on Shamian Island. She was the first of many polite young adults who approached us on the street in order to practice their English. She was quite proud of her English, and had moved to Guangzhou about 6 months earlier from Schezuan province. Her parents had encouraged her to learn English in order to improve her job opportunities. During the course of our stay on Shamian Island, we would wave at her many times as we walked past her jewelry store, which is located right next to the Beatrice Grocery Store on Shamian Island. During Colin and granny’s nap that afternoon, Chris and I again ventured out in search of the Department Store, and were successful this time. As it turns out, we did not have to cross the Pearl River to get there, it was much closer. Our goal was to purchase DVDs and we found quite a number of big-name DVDs that were marked with a globe and number 1, so that we could play them on our US marketed DVD player.
April 6, 2003, Sunday.
Chris and I ventured across the canal that runs in front of the Victory Hotel to the Bei Min Market. Although there are many foreigners on Shamian Island, we were obviously among the few foreigners to visit the market, and were cautiously observed as we passed. We weren’t able to identify most of the items for sale in the booths, but did see dried seahorses, antlers and dried snake for sale at many of the booths. We then ventured a few blocks into the neighborhood, and felt transported to another time. The buildings are of ancient Asian design, stacked closely together, with long narrow alleyways where much of the life of the local people seemed to transpire. We saw groups of people seated on stools in groups sharing large bowls of noodles. Brooms, as everywhere in China, were handmade from branches and brush.
Our travel group also arrived on Sunday morning, led by Morgan Zhao of AAC. Morgan is a native of Heifei in Northeastern China, and has lived in Colorado for approximately 10 years. He travels to China with most of the families who are adopting through AAC. He became our guide, translator, angel and friend. He certainly lived up to his nickname of “Uncle Morgan”. The other families in our group were Jim and Sue from Longmont, Colorado, who were adopting their first child, Emma Grace; and Michelle and Michael-Paul from Salt Lake City, Utah with their five year old son, Reily, who were traveling to adopt Hanna Rose. We had shared emails and telephone calls with the other families before the trip, and were pleased to finally meet them. The arriving group rested and showered at the Victory Hotel before we left at noon for the airport to Nanchang in Jiangxi province.
The Guangzhou airport is large, bustling, and quite overwhelming. We were glad to have Morgan to shepherd us along. By 4:30 p.m., we arrived at the Nanchang airport, which is cleaner and quieter than its Guangzhou counter-part. Our group retrieved our luggage, and wheeled it across the parking lot to our waiting van. As we walked through the airport, my husband and I found ourselves searching the faces of the local girls and women for a trace of how our daughter might look as she grows older. At the van, there was a group of beautiful children in deep-colored, if somewhat ragged clothing. They appeared to be street-children, but we were told that they were local kids simply checking-out the strange foreigners. The drive from the airport to Nanchang was beautiful and bucolic. We saw many small farming villages, and an interesting resort that had replicas of the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower!
Nanchang is a bustling, heavily-populated city. We were greeted at the Gloria Plaza Hotel by a handful of French-Canadian fathers armed with video cameras. They were hoping that our van was carrying their arriving babies! The Gloria is another 5 star establishment. We were charmed by the sight of a baby crib, stroller, and baby tub in our room upon our arrival! Our room overlooked the busy waterfront, predominated by a large “Jiffy Lube” sign. We guessed that they manufacture these signs nearby. Every morning, at around 4:00, the waterfront became a bustling bee-hive of human activity. Countless people would come and go with their rickshaws and motorcycles. It seemed that this part of the waterfront was the central produce market for the city.
With barely enough time to change our shirts and freshen-up, we were advised that the babies had arrived and were downstairs in a suite of the hotel. I felt excited and deranged. I had pulled out our gifts for the nannies, Jessa’s bottles and a change of clothes for her, but did not have time to unpack.
We met the other families (with camcorders in hand) and Morgan at the elevator, and went to the appointed hotel suite. All of us agreed to take turns filming each other for our “gotcha”. We also gave the digital camera to big brother Colin, who took an interesting series of photos of the bathroom, toilet paper rolls, telephones, door knobs, etc– the world from a four year old’s perspective! He ultimately took a particularly meaningful picture of Jessa as she was being passed from the nanny’s arms into my own.
We were first to receive our baby. A nanny brought out beautiful, sweet-faced Jessa, who was cautiously watchful. She was bundled in four layers of clothing, including a winter cap-- even though the hotel room was probably 80 degrees. I was careful not to pull her out of the nanny’s arms, and first talked to her a bit. That seemed to go well, and the nanny handed her to me. After about two minutes in my arms, she started screaming with all her might. The nanny quickly motioned that she needed a diaper change, a process which only made Jessa scream louder. While this was happening, Hanna and Emma went quite happily to their new mommies and were posing for pictures! Poor baby Jessa. Only later did we find out that she was well past her bedtime, and had not eaten or been changed in five plus hours. Add to this that she had been separated from the only mother she knew earlier that morning, and it is not hard to understand why she was inconsolable. We proceeded to our hotel room with her still screaming. Soon the nannies showed up with the rice cereal and milk powder to which she was accustomed. They said she did not drink from a bottle, and that they needed a bowl, spoon, and scissors to open the packages. I frantically tore through our unpacked luggage in search of the bowls and spoons I brought, and in the absence of scissors, ripped open the cereal and milk packets with my teeth. The nannies were politely bemused at my frantic efforts. In the meantime, the excitement of all of the nannies and other families crowding into our small room did not help to calm the baby– she would have nothing to do with the food. Finally, everybody retreated and we were left in the hotel room where Chris took control. “We need to minimize stimulation!” he proclaimed and ordered all of us (including myself) out of the room and into granny’s adjoining room. I was a bit bent out of shape, but I also knew that his calming presence would probably help Jessa more than I could at that point. He proceeded to turn down the lights, and attempt to determine how best to calm her. She would have nothing to do with a pacifier, but eventually happily sucked on her new blanket, and finally cried herself to sleep, completely spent. We were convinced that she would awake in a few hours to resume her crying and eat something. Instead, she slept the night through until 5:30 the next morning, and awoke with watchfulness and then smiles at her daddy and the rest of us. She then ate for quite a long time and treated us to more sweet smiles once her tummy was full.
April 7, 2003, Monday/ April 8, 2003 Tuesday
Jessa continued to be especially attached to Chris during the next week. Although she responded happily to all of us, he was the only person who could comfort her when she was tired or scared. I felt confident that our bond would develop, as it, indeed has. From that first morning on, it was a relatively easy process getting to know Jessa’s habits and needs.
Despite that first night, she has proven to be an even-tempered, responsive and sweet baby. She cries only when she needs something, and then only until she is attended to.
Jessa was immediately fascinated by her hands and feet. We assume that they had previously been kept covered by her layers of clothing– she acted as if she had never seen them. At first, she had no concept of how to pick-up things or otherwise use her hands. Her dad started putting crumpled balls of paper on the bed next to her, and within a few days, with immense concentration, she was proudly picking up the paper balls. She sat quite well independently, and still enjoys sitting in the middle of the room watching the family move about. She, however, had very little upper body strength. She could not roll herself over from her tummy, or otherwise push up her upper body. Happily, all of these slight deficits have improved considerably in the last few months.
The next few days in Nanchang were occupied by bus trips to the Provincial Office of Civil Affairs Administration and the Provincial Office of the Notary Public to finalize Jessa’s adoption. We also enjoyed touring Nanchang, particularly the Teng Wang pavilion down the street from the hotel. Jessa seemed to thoroughly enjoy her stroller, and was still a bit more comfortable in the stroller than being carried by one of us.
On Tuesday, my mother and I decided on a whim to venture to a department store to buy some more underwear for Colin. I asked the front desk personnel to write the name of the store in Chinese on a piece of paper. We had already discovered in Guangzhou that average people do not read pinyon Chinese. As we walked down the very busy street (it made New York City seem calm!), we made many heads turn, and were followed by groups of young children in their school uniforms. Although, Nanchang is a large city, people still find non-Asian foreigners to be an oddity. I wasn’t completely sure that we were heading in the right direction, and caught the eye of a woman about my age dressed in a business suit. She was quick to return my smile, and point us in the right direction. She then decided to personally escort us to the department store. As we hurried down the sidewalk, my mother caught her foot in the uneven pavement, and fell down hard. We were really worried that she had hurt herself. Luckily, she got up and had not hurt herself even though she landed on a knee which is already in need of replacement surgery. From there on, our friend took one of my mother’s arms, and did not let go until we arrived at the department store. She then took us up many flights of escalators to find the underwear that we were searching for. Although she didn’t speak English, she would search her memory for words and phrases from her school days, and was altogether friendly and sweet. It amazes me how well people can communicate without sharing a language.
We had been scheduled to share a group dinner on Monday evening, but between everybody’s exhaustion and the unfortunate fact that baby Emma had a raging fever, the dinner was postponed. We looked forward to enjoying a tasty meal on Tuesday evening, but were surprised by our experience at the New Orient Hotel, which is not actually a hotel, but a palace of a restaurant. The front door of the restaurant was opened by a dozen or so beautiful young Chinese hostesses, and opened into a palacious lobby with crystal chandeliers and marble floors. There were perhaps 75 tanks of various live fish and sea life in the rear of the first floor. After inspecting the tanks, we took the glass elevator to one of the upper floors, to our private dining room that had been reserved by Morgan. We entered a lush room with sofas, a television for Karaoke, and a large, round dining table. We proceeded to feast on many courses of savory Chinese food. The food was delivered to the private dining rooms by waiters on roller skates! When the bill came, Morgan advised that it would be $65.00. We assumed that this was $65.00 for each of us, and felt it was a worthwhile splurge. You can imagine our surprise when we learned that the bill was $65 total– for seven adults and two little boys!
April 9, 2003, Wednesday.
We traveled to Guangchang on our private, air-conditioned small bus. Despite being distracted by our beautiful babies and shared conversation, the trip made an indelible impression of the countryside in China. Rice paddies and water buffalo were everywhere. The amount of man (and woman) power needed to tend to these paddies and to feed the billion plus people in this country is impressive. Most of the labor is not assisted by machines of any kind; it is backbreaking work sloshing through knee-deep mud. On rare occasions, we saw mechanized plowing machines, but even they seemed quite primitive, and were pushed by people. It is remarkable that almost all of the land we passed is used for agriculture. It gave me some insight into the limited space on this earth, and what a stress it can be on the environment to feed an enormous human population.
As we drove through numerous small towns, we saw many small shops- some local noodle shops, others with bicycle parts, most with construction materials. Although commercial trucks were everywhere, there were few private cars and trucks on the road. Individuals rely on walking, buses, bicycles and some motorcycles.
The traffic on the highway was so scary that I could barely watch. It made my forays on buses in Mexico, and traffic in New York City seem tame! Our bus driver used his horn constantly, and drove aggressively. It was sobering when traffic came to a complete halt as a result of a truck landing head-first in one of the rice paddies next to the road. All of the passengers up and down the road disembarked. A few of us took a memorable nature walk across the rice paddies and into the hills for a relief break. I would have loved to have taken a longer walk and investigated the beautiful blooming flowers, but I was concerned that traffic would get started again. A few trucks ahead of us was a huge transport of giant sows. I started to approach the truck with Colin, but was soon put off by the strong stink of the pigs.
With the relatively new highway, the trip was supposed to take 4 hours, but our delay cost us about an hour on the trip. By late that afternoon, we pulled into Guangchang, a quiet town next to a lazy river. The weather was foggy, humid and cool– to be expected during the rainy season. We pulled into the Guangchang Social Welfare Institute, which is located on the way into town, to pick-up the orphanage director, Mrs. Gao, with whom Morgan had been in contact by cell phone. The orphanage is surrounded by rice paddies and what appears to be suburban (by Chinese standards) housing. The orphanage is newer, cement block construction. We pulled through the front-gate into a small paved court-yard area in the back which is bordered on the rear by a large garden. The orphanage is three stories high, but the lower story does not seems to have any rooms. Along the outside back wall of the building is a very pretty and colorful mural of Chinese children. We did not disembark from the bus at the orphanage that day. Mrs. Gao came onto the bus to direct us to the hotel.
Mrs. Gao is a brisk, business-like woman. I would guess that she is about 40 years old, and is obviously quite proud of her position as the director of the orphanage. She dresses in Western clothes, mostly jeans and blouses, and has a short haircut. One of her hands is deformed, but it is not something you notice immediately. She sees all of the foreign families adopting babies during the delivery and adoption proceedings in Nanchang. It was hard to get a read on Mrs. Gao. At first she appears quite cool, but as I watched her more closely, my sense is that her persona masks her slight intimidation by the “wealthy” foreigners. Who knows? I can say that she was more than accommodating and helpful to our group during our visit.
When we arrived at the Xin Hui Hotel, I was impressed by the small marble lobby. Porters immediately materialized to help us unload the bus, and all of us were shown to the sixth floor of the hotel where our rooms were located. There was a lot of staff everywhere in the hotel, and it was clear that our arrival was something of a big event. We were touched by the excitement and the warm smiles from the hotel staff. There was not an elevator to the sixth floor, only stairs! Six flights of stairs is more work when you’re carrying a sleepy baby! It was also quite a feat for my 69 year old mother with the gimpy knee. I was impressed by her uncomplaining ascent up these stairs. After the second trip up the stairs that day, however, she informed us that she did not plan to leave her room anymore!
The staff at the hotel had made every attempt to make the rooms as hospitable as possible. There were large bowls of fresh fruit, and the rooms were reasonably clean. The cleanliness was not quite up to what we would expect in most American hotels. But the heart that went into the preparations for our visit, far outweighed any squeamishness I had about the room hygiene. Each room was outfitted with brand new cribs for the babies. We would later find that these cribs had been purchased by the orphanage. The rooms did not have locks. Instead, each room had a personal attendant, and a desk at the end of the hall was always full of a number of young, smiling women eager to attempt to overcome any language barrier and to be helpful. The girls particularly enjoyed the antics of the two boys, who were anxious to vent some energy running up and down the hallway.
Soon after our arrival, Morgan told us to go to a small dining room on the fourth floor. There we enjoyed a late lunch, which included the local lotus seed in a broth. We also enjoyed a savory soup made with exotic-looking local mushrooms. My mother requested a fork, and soon a breathless employee appeared with boxes of new forks that had just been purchased for the occasion!
During the lunch, Mrs. Gao reprimanded us for not having the babies sufficiently bundled. At first we took this warning with a light heart, but quickly realized that she was quite serious. All of the local women were quick to remind us to keep the babies dressed in many layers, with their heads, hands and feet covered.
My parents had raised about $300 from her ladies’ church group and his Rotary Club, which they planned to donate to the orphanage. At Morgan’s suggestion, we all visited the local department store with Mrs. Gao and other orphanage employees to purchase items for the orphanage. As it turns out, my parent’s donation reimbursed the orphanage for the three new cribs it had purchased for our use (and were then used by the orphanage) and a remarkable display of walkers, and other children’s items for the orphanage. It is amazing that a relatively modest amount of money can really make a difference.
Our trip to the department store was a wild experience. As Chris and Michael-Paul waited for the rest of us in front of the hotel with the boys, a crowd of schoolchildren on bicycles and many adults congregated to investigate the strange foreigners. The crowd would have been intimidating, if it were not for the mild manner and mostly friendly smiles. The people, especially the children, were beautiful, most with pleasant round faces and rosy cheeks. Their coloring was offset by the pretty, rich, bright colors common with the local dress. The crowd, however, grew so quickly that it was difficult for the bus driver to maneuver out into traffic.
The next stop was the town department store. The store was two stories and not very large, but stocked just about everything a department store should have. As we walked through the store, the other customers, many local students and the shopgirls found us to be quite exotic, and watched us closely. Some of our interest was that we were foreigners, but I’m not certain that they understood why we were carrying little Chinese babies! Meanwhile, the crowd outside the store grew, and was quite dense by the time we left to go back to the bus. Many women were anxious to show off their own beautiful babies to us. After this expedition, we were all exhausted by the day, and returned for a very quiet evening, room-service wanton soup, and an early bedtime at the hotel.
The only excitement that evening was a short visit from Mrs. Gao’s ten year old son and his friend. He knew Jessa from Sunday visits to his grandparents, and was interested in getting a glimpse of us, and saying good-bye to the baby. We asked if his grandparents had any nicknames for her, and he replied “Pan Pan”, which loosely translated means little fat one. We took pictures of the boys with Colin and Jessa and they soon returned home, presumably to prepare for school the next day.
April 10, 2003, Thursday
The next morning we met at the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Despite that there were only three tables of patrons– two of which were our group– there were approximately 25 waitresses outfitted in uniforms and ready to serve us. Most of them were quite taken by the little boys, and we have some memorable pictures of these lovely young women with the boys.
After a delicious breakfast of dumplings, fruit and congee, we bade farewell to the restaurant staff, and boarded the bus for the short drive to the Guangchang Social Welfare Institute. Just the day before, Mrs. Gao had explained, through Morgan, that the orphanage usually receives about 75 abandoned babies each year. All of the babies brought into orphanage care last year were girls. She said that the number of abandoned babies had decreased over the last few years, which she attributed to an improved agricultural economy in the area. When the babies are brought into the orphanage, they are bathed, fed and evaluated for health and medical problems. If the children are healthy, they are usually assigned to a foster home very quickly. The foster parents are given milk powder and rice powder, and a small stipend for their services. Most of the foster parents are elderly women, who have raised large families of their own. The foster parents usually care for between 1 and 3 babies at a time. There were about 35 babies at the orphanage at the time, and about the same number in active foster care. There were very, very young twins, and a newborn baby who had been brought into the orphanage the day before. If only I could have brought those babies home with me! There were also a great many older babies set into their wicker baby chairs. Ms. Gao told us that all of these babies had been assigned to adoptive families already.
When we arrived at the orphanage, the nannies were standing at the balcony of the second floor waiting for us. Our children’s foster parents were also downstairs to greet us. Jessa’s foster parents, Mr. & Mrs. Wu, are the parents of the orphanage director’s husband. They are elderly, perhaps in their late 70's, early 80's. Mrs. Wu quickly approached the bus, with tears in her eyes– she had been missing her young charge! She was thrilled to be able to hold Jessa and fuss over her. Mr. Wu was also quite attached to Jessa, and was beaming as he carried her around. Jessa seemed quite content to be in Mr. & Mrs. Wu’s arms, but was also keeping an eye on her new daddy and me. I can only wonder what she was thinking.
After a tearful short visit near the bus, all of us were ushered to a meeting room on the third floor. There, while the foster parents happily observed the babies and new families, Mrs. Gao made a short introductory statement about the orphanage. Since Mrs. Gao does not speak English, everything was translated by Morgan. Mrs. Gao explained that the Guangchang SWI is made up of two facilities, one for babies, and another for the elderly and disabled. These two buildings are in different locations. She said that all of the babies at the Guangchang SWI are placed for adoption, with the exception of a 14 year old girl who still lives there and is attending middle school.
After the introduction, Morgan took turns interpreting between each of the families and the foster parents. We were told that Jessa had been in the care of Mr. & Mrs. Wu since soon after her birth. They have adult children who live outside of the home. They also have a teenage grandson and granddaughter who live with them. Mrs. Wu explained that she had always cup-fed Jessa, and that she had never had a bottle. She also explained that Jessa loved all kinds of soft-foods, and she particularly enjoyed brothy soups and noodles. Jessa had always been healthy, and did not appear to have any allergies. They said that she was known as “Mei Mei”, or “little sister” in their home. She still responds best when she is called Mei Mei. My mother and Mrs. Wu seemed to have an instant connection as “grannies”. They cried a lot and hugged each other.
During and after the “interviews” we were allowed to freely wander about the orphanage. We were impressed by the cleanliness of the place, and the pretty, colorful decorations in the nurseries. The nannies were sweet and seemed attentive to the babies. It was difficult, though, to see the babies sitting in their wicker chairs, and not being held in the arms of parents.
The elderly Mr. Wu was particularly friendly and interested in us. He offered Chris a cigarette, which Chris (a non-smoker) gladly accepted and smoked as a token of Mr. Wu’s friendship. When we were getting ready to leave, Mr. Wu suggested to Morgan that we come to visit their home. We were quite excited by this prospect! Mrs. Gao was not as excited. She told Morgan that it was a “poor home” and seemed embarrassed. Suddenly, Mr. Wu’s genial mood shifted and he fiercely talked to his daughter-in-law, who then changed her mind to allow us a visit so long as we didn’t photograph the house.
Soon, we all crowded back onto the bus, along with all of the foster parents, the orphanage director and her assistant, and a number of other foster parents with their young charges. After a short drive, we arrived at Bei Men Village, and followed Mr. & Mrs. Wu back through some streets and alleyways, to the only home that Jessa had ever known. Mrs. Wu called out greetings to her neighbors, who gathered and were impressed by the visitors to the Wu home. It is a three story, cinder block/cement constructed, gray home. On the first floor there is a kitchen, with a wood-burning cooking area, and an open room where there is a dining room. On the landing to the second-floor is an immaculately clean, squat toilet, with flush plumbing. Upstairs, is the master bedroom with a living area. Mr. & Mrs. Wu sleep in an intricately carved wooden, ancient looking double bed. Next to the bed is an electric fan, a small crib, and a television set with a comfortable chair. There was also a table with jars and a kettle for making tea. Mr. Wu was very proud to show us his television set and to show off the room and the rest of the house. On the wall next to the bed, is a framed collage of pictures of the foster babies who have been in the home. There was also at least one picture of an adoptive mother with her new baby.
As I stepped out onto the balcony and looked over the neighborhood, I could see that Mr. & Mrs. Wu were at least upper-middle class in comparison to the other people in the neighborhood. Many of the other homes were one story, without doors, and had mud floors. Although we would have loved to have stayed longer and enjoyed tea with the Wu’s, the day was quickly slipping away and our fellow travelers were waiting on the bus. We bade tearful farewells with promises of pictures, letters to Mr. & Mrs. Wu, and hopes for return visits in the future.
Our next stop was the market where Hanna had been left in the first few days of her life. The market was full of people, and everybody gathered to see the visitors as we pulled in. Michelle had been carrying her big 10 month-old sweety in a baby sling. All of the women gathered to inspect the baby sling, as well as the pretty blond-haired, blue-eyed mother with her sweet Chinese babygirl. It was a riotous, emotional scene, which made me wonder whether any of the people in the crowd were the biological parents of Hanna Rose, or if anybody knew her parents. Meanwhile, on the bus, the two boys started to melt-down from the excitement. I found them both crying quite loudly in the back of the bus, each claiming an injury from the other. Although they had been mostly well-behaved and fun travelers, they were both feeling the accumulated effect of their parents’ attentions being elsewhere. Soon, Reily was loudly proclaiming his need for the bathroom “right away!” and his dad bravely ran with him in his arms, after a friendly man realized the need and cleared a path for them to the closest toilet. The crowd was surrounding our bus, and looking inside, but never did I feel threatened by their openly curious stares. We were quickly becoming accustomed to the Chinese sense of personal space, which is much closer than our own comfort zone. One young woman noticed the boys crying, and offered sealed yogurt drinks through the window for the boys. It was small acts of kindness such as this that I will always remember.
Our last stop was in GanZhu Town where Jessa had been left on the day of her birth. By this time, I had a sleeping baby in my arms, and a sleeping 4 year old with his head on my lap, so I was unable to get off the bus. Chris walked up to the town hall gate where Jessa had been left. The town is small, crowded and poor. On the gates were signs regarding the one-child policy and contracts that newly married people must sign agreeing to have no more than one child. As we drove away, Chris and I both wept quietly as we contemplated the tragedy and utter sadness of the situation in which our baby had been left, as contrasted with the beautiful, sweet spirit nestled in my arms.
Although I can’t remember exactly when, we also visited a beautiful pagoda in Guangchang that day. We traveled down rural roads where children were walking together, the older kids watching out for the younger ones. With parents working long hours, the children seems to have much more responsibility than those in the United States. The bus climbed a muddy one-way road past the pagoda and turned around in an area of homes predominated by loose chickens and other farm animals. The pagoda was quite tall, although it’s stairs were reserved for the monks, so we could not climb up the tower. There was a walled garden area all the way around, and in one of the buildings was one of the best preserved example of a dinosaur skeleton that I’ve ever seen! Despite our long, emotionally wrought day, I was still struck by the gentle, peaceful vista of foggy, green, rolling hills and rice paddies stretching in every direction.
The drive back to Nanchang seemed longer and bumpier than our initial trip to Guangchang. Perhaps it was because we were exhausted, or perhaps it was that the driver was a bit lost. The children slept most of the way, while the adults tried to soak-up the landscape. One scene that struck both Chris and I was a framed photograph of Chairman Mao in a small town, that appeared to be shrine-like. The photo was protected against the afternoon rain by a small umbrella.
That evening, Michael-Paul was kind enough to take the two little boys swimming in the indoor pool at the Gloria Plaza Hotel. What a view there is from the pool! It is surrounded by glass walls, and overlooks the busy waterfront and the nearby pagoda. It’s definitely worth a swim, if only to soak in the pretty view.
April 11, 2003, Friday.
The next day, Friday, our last in Nanchang, was occupied by shopping and sightseeing. The three dads accompanied Morgan in a taxi to pick-up the girls’ passports, and the rest of us set about shopping and bargaining. Later that afternoon, we boarded the bus for one last time to head to the airport to fly back to Guangzhou. We were sad to wave good-bye to the friendly porters who had lugged our baggage and opened the hotel doors at all hours of the day and night, always with a smile and enjoyment at the antics of the little American boys.
Unfortunately, our last few nights in Guangzhou overlapped with the Spring Trade Fair which resulted in the cost of our hotel rooms at the Victory Hotel more than doubling in price. Rather than $55.00/night, we paid $125.00 per night the last few days. Still not a bad deal, but we were paying for two rooms!
April 12, 2003, Saturday.
A quiet day of rest and recovery. We also took the babies down the street for their medical exam and had their visa pictures taken.
e enjoyed meeting another father who was traveling by himself to pick-up his handsome two-year old son, Benjamin. Benjamin came from an orphanage in Northern China, and could not walk because of muscular dystrophy. Despite his paralysis, Benjamin was a champion crawler and a bright, spunky little boy. His father was taking him home to a family of many anxiously waiting siblings and his mother who had traveled earlier in the year to nurse Benjamin following surgery to remove some of the scar tissue from his lower spine.
April 13, 2003, Sunday.
My 40th birthday! By chance, it was also a day that Morgan had planned for our group to tour and shop at some of the better shops. I treated myself to a beautiful strand of pearls from the pearl market! We also bought a pretty, delicate strand of pearls for Jessa to give to her on her 16th birthday. In addition to shopping, we toured the Chen Clan Academy which is a fantastic building and folk art museum, the Six Banyan Tree Temple, and shopped at a fancy porcelain market. We lunched at a fancy restaurant overlooking the beautiful grounds of the Yun Tai Flower garden park. My mother arranged for a birthday cake during lunch, which was a great surprise. Afterward we walked around the park, near the fountains and through the gardens. When the boys seemed interested in soap bubbles that another family was blowing, the family quickly offered the bubbles as a gift to the boys despite our protestations.
April 14, 2003, Monday.
By this time, I decided that I was going to enjoy shopping and buy whatever I liked, within reason. Keep in mind that most of the shopping in Guangzhou can be accomplished in the $10 and under range! I began to enjoy bargaining and found it to be a fun way to interact with the shop employees. Part of the fun was that I did not take the bargaining too seriously, smiled a lot, and kept a friendly attitude. I had a small calculator which helped a lot with dickering. Most of the employees on Shamian Island are quick to convert RMBs to US Dollars. Typically, I would inquire about the asking price for an item, and then offer 40-50% of that price. If the shop keeper asked what I thought it was worth, I would offer some ridiculously low price with a smile on my face. Frequently, the employee would call over the store manager before we would reach agreement. The store keepers are very savvy, and will not accept any price that is too low. In all likelihood, even my best bargaining resulted in a 100% mark-up for the shops!
Besides shopping, the three dads accompanied Morgan to the US Consulate for the mercifully short formal vow in front of the BCIS officer. According to Chris, this amounted to saying something to the effect of “I do” in response to the officer’s question to the group.
April 15, 2003, Tuesday.
We spent most of the day on Tuesday at the XianJiang Wildlife Safari Park & Zoo. This is a privately owned park and zoo. The animals, particularly the white lions and their kittens are stunningly beautiful. We also saw a sleepy panda bear. The park is well-kept, but we were running out of adrenaline and enthusiasm by the end of this day. I remember wishing that I could go home and rest-up for a few weeks, and then return to see more of China!
April 16, 2003, Wednesday.
Time to return home! As we drove through the streets of Guangzhou on the way to the airport, I remember wishing that I could remember every little detail of the city. I also realized that we had barely seen sunshine in two weeks. Although, this would usually be cause for some complaint from me, it was a relief in that the temperature had also been surprisingly hospitable during our visit.
As we were boarding the flight, I realized that there were approximately 25 other adoptive families returning home with their daughters. I was worried about the general noise level during the flight, but exhaustion reigned on the flight home. All of the babies and most of the parents and other travelers, slept long and hard on the return flight.
April 17, 2003, Thursday.
After an unanticipated over night in Los Angeles, we finally arrived home in Santa Fe on Thursday afternoon. The bright blue skies were almost blinding after our time in overcast China. We smiled at little Jessa, who was squinting at the bright light, clearly brighter than any she had witnessed in her short life!
Our arrival home was a little different than what we had anticipated. Nobody was waiting at the airport, due to our plan to self-quarantine for the SARs virus for 10 days. Although we were anxious to share our joy, it was almost a relief to have 10 days to recover from the trip. It took the kids at least a week to turn their schedules around with the time-change, and this resulted in many bleary-eyed midnights watching Disney videos on the couch. The first week home, and our recovery from the time-change and trip was the most difficult part of the whole trip.
On the second day home, our local adoption agency called to tell us that one of the local news channels was interested in interviewing us about the trip and our experience with SARs. After assurances from the reporter that the piece would not be negative, we agreed to an interview. The news piece aired on Easter Sunday, and is a great piece of memorabilia from our trip.
More than two months after our return home, it is difficult to imagine our lives without Jessa. She has quickly settled into our family, and the love we feel for her seems boundless. She brightens and smiles every time she sees her dad, her brother or me enter the room. Her development is hitting stride, and she brings smiles and cheer to us and everyone else who meets her. In fact, our trip to Jessa was really only the beginning of the story of our life together...