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A year later

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It has been a year since we went to China.  And what a year it has been. I never did get a chance to update posts or reflect on the trip in this forum as life events took over.

A year later, as I look back on the trip, I’m so thankful that we took it.  And I’m also very grateful that I had the opportunity to create this blog.   Several days after we got home, my father died suddenly.  He was on his way home from the American Southwest and died on the road.  This was a terrible loss.  It was so heartbreaking not to have a chance to say goodbye nor tell him about the trip which he was very excited for us to take.  However, since we were going so far away to China, we ended up saying a big goodbye, good trip, and I love you prior to leaving.  Also, I found out that he checked the blog when possible during his trip so he did actually get to hear about it.  These facts were comforting during such grief.

Dad and Xinya at one year old

Dad and Xinya at one year old

The other reason that I have not updated this blog is that about 8 months after the trip, we had an addition to our family.  I gave birth to a wonderfully happy and healthy baby girl.  Since I found out the day before we left that I was expecting, I was able to be very careful about eating and drinking in China.

November 6, 2012

November 6, 2012

So this trip marks a turning point in my life for those reasons, but I also hoped to reflect on what it contributed to Xinya’s life story.  It was incredibly moving and profound.  I can’t imagine not having taken the trip.  It answered some questions and gave a context to the mysteries of her story.

I believe she was too young to deal with the overwhelming emotions and events, and to be able to make use of the information.  Also, likely too young to have a complete recollection of it later in life.  However, China changes so much, as do people, that we could not have had such a rich experience if we had waited much longer.  For example, Xinya spent the first eight months of her life in foster care.  Although we were lucky enough to meet her foster father, her foster mother had died a year earlier.  The house where she stayed during that time, had been recently left by her foster father for a more modern house in the tiny village.  However, his furniture and effects were still there for us to see.  His plan is to soon move into the city with his son and leave both houses behind.  The old ladies in the foster village remembered Xinya and were very happy to see her.  (Although Xinya wasn’t at all thrilled that they expected her to understand them and wouldn’t take their hands off her!)  When we stopped in the village where Xinya was found on the steps of the Social Welfare Institute, and old lady peered into the van to see Xinya and comment on her beauty.  Our guide said that it was fortunate that she came.  For she will know everyone and recall events and be able to tell Xinya’s biological parents that she is fine.  Things and people would have changed if we waited another 5 or 6 years when she actually could have taken full advantage of them.

Xinya cultivated a love for China on this trip.  She was very overwhelmed by the visit to her hometown and does not want to return there but she is anxious to go back to China.  We did not go to Beijing because of the weather there in March (I did not want to back a winter coat!) and she would like to go see the Great Wall and Temple of Heaven.  So we will go back soon.  My desire to have Xinya think of China as a fun place which is accessible was fulfilled.  To walk around, take the subway, eat the food and talk to people made China real to her in a way that internet, books and tv cannot.  Before this trip, she had no desire to go, now she is looking forward to it.  I am very happy that she now shares my love for China.

As we all adjust to life with the addition and loss of loved ones, we reflect often on this trip.  The experience of China and friendship of our companions has added a rich and profound thread to our family’s tapestry.  So many thanks to Ma Rui at Journey Home Tours for help with internal travel and for your patience in some of our unconventional choices.  Also to my friend Lianne for updating the blog when we were prohibited by China’s internet limitations.   And to our adventurous and fun travel companions.

 

Shanghai

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We spent our last couple of days in Shanghai.  We had an absolutely fabulous hotel and Xinya was very impressed with the television in the wall at the end of the bathtub.

Arrived in Shanghai

Hotel in Shanghai

The night we went there, we headed down to the Bund and Nanjing Road to have a night view of the city.  We also were searching for a famous restaurant which was supposed to be great called M.  It was difficult to find but fortunately, we finally did.  It was hiding in a big old stone building on the seventh floor.  The view was incredible as it looked out onto the famous skyline of Shanghai.  The food was good and it was likely the most expensive meal we had all trip.


The view from the restaurant at night

Our full day was spent visiting the Bund, the Shanghai Aquarium and going to the acrobat show.  The acrobat show was definitely the highlight for the girls and the adults found it entertaining too.

The Bund is an area of Shanghai that runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River.  Its a collection of buildings and wharves and it the most famous tourist destination in Shanghai.  It’s about a mile in length and centred on Zhongshan Road.  On the West are 52 buildings of Western classical and modern styles (you’d think you were in a European city) and not he other side is a park which if mainly just concrete to walk around on and take pictures because on the other side of the river is the famous Shanghai skyline with the tv tower.  We took the tunnel under the river from the Bund to the other side to where the aquarium is near the tower.  We rode the underground tram which goes through a tunnel with lights and sound effects.

The Aquarium was reasonable for a few hours entertainment and since it was cold and windy outside, it was a welcome warm and calm environment.


Acrobats

Our last day in China and last day in Shanghai was difficult as we didn’t want to leave.  We went to Yu Yuan Gardens.  They were absolutely beautiful.  Also, the shops outside were very good and fun to haggle for souvenirs with our last money.

Yu Yuan Gardens, an oasis in the city

Time to go!  Our little bus picked us up and took us to the airport.  We boarded the flight and waited for two hours before getting off the ground, but the flight went quickly and we got some sleep.  We sure will miss China!

All packed up at the airport

 A few last pictures with Sylvie’s camera before leaving

Orphanage

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The countryside on outskirts of Guangchang

It was a busy and tiring couple of days travelling to the orphanage.  We flew via shanghai to nanchang and stayred there for a night.  The next day we went shopping for gifts for the orphanage and drove 5 hours to get there.  There is a new super highway to get from Nanchang to Guangchang so the drive was much smoother than what I expected.  We had lunch and visited the orphanage and caregivers as well as finding spot and foster home.  It was an emotional and difficult day but we are so glad we went.  We stayed over night in Guangchang then drove back to Nanchang to get on a flight to Shanghai.

A friendly welcome at the SWI

Giving gifts to the children at the orphanage

Nanchang has changed so much since wewere there 9 years ago.  It is bigger and more modern city with skyscrapers.  There is a new terminal at the airport and lots of modern shopping.  Apparently a car company came to town and it has totally revolutionized the city. Guangchang was bigger than I expected.  When I told my guide that, he said it had grown a lot in the past five years too.  The orphanage is in a different building than it was when Xinya was small and I was worried because I had heard it was a recycling transfer station.  I thought that would be difficult to see.  But it has been rented out to a small company who makes furniture.  The industry in Guangchang is cigarette manufacturing and lotus growing and processing.  We had lotus root soup when we went for lunch.  The lotus plant is also ground up and made into a milk.  We didn’t get to try that.

The old orphanage and views of the street around it

For anyone travelling there, we stayed in the Galactic Hotel in Nanchang, which was great.  There are several restaurants there.  Most westerners stick to the Western Restaurant but we went down to the Chinese Restaurant (yes, that’s what it was called) and although there was some smoking, the food was incredible.  Our presence seemed a bit unexpected but they were very helpful and the food was very good.  All the dishes were on display and you picked them out before you sat down.  AND, the price for the entire dinner for three was the same as the buffet for one in the Western Restaurant!  In Guangchang, we stayed at the best hotel in town.  It was large with nice finishes but not well kept with cigarette burns the the carpet, stained sheets and a missing toilet seat.  Breakfast was a typical chinese breakfast.

Hotel in Guangchang

The institutions the babies are at in China are called Social Welfare Institutes.  This is because they are places for people to go who need care.  This is babies as well as old people who have no children to care for them.  Therefore, the building we went to was big and housed both babies and senior citizens.   It seems the two groups are kept quite separate but the older folks sure were interested in our visit.  In Guangchang there were only about 12 babies there, mostly around one year old.  Apparently, they also have about 12 out in foster care.

We had a great time and a great guide. Next stop, Shanghai!

sad to leave yangshuo

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It has been a couple of days since posting. Internet is not great and many sites are blocked. (Thanks to a very helpful friend for help!).

Our hotel, Pheonix Pagoda Retreat

Yangshuo was absolutely beautiful and we were sad to leave. Our last full day there, we did a boat ride down the river, hiked through caves, biked and went out to see the cormorant fishing.  The boat ride was on a bamboo raft. Its pushed and steered by someone with a bamboo pole at the back; sort of like a gondola. The scenery was amazing and we got lots of wonderful pictures. Xinya even tried her hand at piloting the boat.

 

At the end, the shore was busy with vendors. We got pictures taken with monkeys. I would normally never support that kind of animal use but I have to tell you, after being in a meat market here, I think the little guys are getting off easy wearing costumes and posing for pictures.

We walked from there to our most important stop in our search for dragons…the dragon cave!  The trip through the cave is a combination of walk and boat and I think we spotted a few dragons hiding in the stalagmites and stalagtites!
Further down the road was the buddha caves with its hot springs and mud baths. It was less developed (commercial) than the dragon caves and we liked that.

We then walked home and went for a bike ride around the village. The points of interest seemed to be the children and the dogs. Xinya was very happy to see a small gray cat.

We had a great dinner at the hotel before heading to town to watch the cormorant fishing. We were in a boat going through the water beside the fishing raft. The cormorant birds dive for the fish but have a tie on their neck so they can’t swallow them and the fisherman picks them out of the water and squeezes their jaw to empty the fish into his bucket. I expected more fish and a more traditional setting but we had a fun time. The highlight was getting to hold a cormorant on our arm.

Aside from our day of travel yesterday, that is pretty much up to date. I will have to download pictures later. They really are the highlight but I don’t think I will be able to do it now.  (added!)

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Today we drive 4 hours to get to the orphanage. We can’t wait to visit!

More in Yangshuo

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Yesterday was a wonderful day.  We started out with a good breakfast at the hotel. Although I think there are one or two more couples here, we are normally the only ones in the restaurant.  Our group now consists of Jeff, Xinya and I as well as my friend Maggie, her twin girls, Zoe and Ella and Maggie’s family friend Sylvie.  (Maggie’s husband and young son are at home having some man time)  Tomorrow when we leave to go to the province where Xinya was born, Maggie will head to the province where her girls were born.

After breakfast, we put in our laundry and made some arrangements for the following day.  It was another foggy day and looked like rain.  Since it is forecast to rain every day we are here, we have decided not to be deterred by that.  We set out on bicycles.  The hotel had plenty to choose from and Xinya and I picked a tandem bike.  (I wanted the help!)  Jeff made a mistake and chose the one with no fenders, not so pleasant in the mud!

We biked through the country side, around the mountains on both busy streets and country roads.  There were small fields, rivers and small houses.

At the base of the mountain there were a lot of grave sites.  We ended up at a small village.  There were four women outside the old part of the village in a small tent with a sign, “ancient village receiving committee.”  They would let us in and give us a tour for twenty yuan per adult, kids free.  That meant ten US dollars for all of us, so we decided to go for it. We didn’t even haggle, I guess it was so odd, it took us off guard. An older woman took us through the village and gave a great explanation of the village, it’s history and the architecture….in mandarin… we couldn’t understand much at all!  Anyway, it was very interesting to wander through the maze of buildings and see the ornate carvings on the door ways, the woodwork and the style of the houses.  The tour culminated in a visit to an even older woman’s house and she offered us stools to sit on and all the oranges we could eat (and put in our pockets to go).  They seemed interested in our family and we talked as best we could with limited mandarin and sign language.  It was very fun and a little odd.  When we exited the “ancient” village, the women were taking down the sign and leaving.  I think the hotel let them know we were coming and they had just set up for us.

We rode back and had lunch at the hotel and a short rest before heading to Yangshuo to explore.  Yangshuo was only about fifteen minutes by cab and it is a pretty busy place with lots of hotels and stores.  We changed money at the Bank of China and did a little shopping. Jeff bought two flutes on the street and Xinya bought ice cream from a store.

I had read about a very good vegetarian resataurant online so we decided to try to find it.  I had the adddress, but they didn’t seem to have house numbers on the buildings and we had to walk down the street until we found it, not knowing if we were getting closer. Luckily it wasn’t too far and it was definitely worth the walk.  It was a beautiful place.  They took us into a back corner room with low, cushioned seating with a big window that overlooked a picturesque river and bridge.  We needed to hurry because we had tickets to the light show so we ordered “easy” dishes that the waitress said they could make quickly. The menu was great because it had pictures of every dish and the waitress spoke english so it was very smooth.  I have no idea how they cooked so fast, but the dishes came out fast.  They were delicious.  It was a shame we had to eat so fast.

The light show was at an amazing location on the river surrounded by mountains.  They had what seemed like a cast of hundreds and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before with singers, bamboo boats on the river, lights and in-water props.  It was extremely interesting.

It was a very full day and we all fell asleep quickly.

Yangshuo

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Last night we arrived in Yangshuo after an hour and a half flight and an hour van ride. It was dark and foggy so the silhouette of the mountains just whispered their presence as we drove by. The retreat is up a dark and bumpy road but the golden glow of the lights and ginger tea welcomed and warmed us on arrival.

We were hungry so they made us a meal. It was great, brocolli with garlic, rice, eggs and a chicken dish for those so inclined. It was delicious and satisfying and Xinya ate and fell asleep at the table.

Our rooms are big and comfy. They are simple and interestingly decorated using a lot of natural materials and bamboo.

It looks foggy again today. I think we will be lazy, maybe take a bike ride or walk and attend the light show tonight.

Leaving Hong Kong

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We had a great morning in Hong Kong.  We had another great breakfast and packed up.  We had a late check out arranged so we headed (via subway) to Hong Kong Park.  It is a little oasis in the middle of the city with a conservatory, aviary, play structure, lookout tower, lake, and lots of other stuff we didn’t have time to explore.The kids ran around and had lots of fun, even having an opportunity to get wet in the fountain.

I REALLY love Hong Kong.  I expected a dirty, crowded city with little charm.  The subway is absolutely immaculate and well organized with signs to help out when trying to find attractions.  The streets are clean and feel completely safe.  Everyone is helpful and there are wonderfully diverse landscapes and areas.

We are at the airport waiting to take a plane to Guilin.  Tonight I hope to post more pictures.  The blog is giving me a little trouble with that, as you can see by my double postings!