More about the Luoyang Orphanage

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Mimi and a Luoyang Little One

The Orphanage.

I’ve waited to write more about the orphanage, quite frankly, because I needed time to process it all before taking to the keyboard. Our daughter lived the first 2.5 years of her life in the care of the people of Luoyang.  We are grateful that she appears to have been healthy (with some minor issues) and grown normally during her time there.  We could tell from our limited interaction with the staff, that the people who work there do care about the pint-sized bundles of energy in their charge.

You may be surprised to know that visiting the orphanage of a child you have adopted from China is not always something that can or does happen for each adoptive family.  There are many factors such as distance, scheduling, personnel and paperwork that may throw a wrench into a family’s plan to visit their child’s orphanage. Furthermore, not all families want to make the trip.  When you have had a child for only a few days, there may be health or attachment issues that a long trip in a car or train wouldn’t help.  In addition to logistic problems there is an emotional risk of going back and taking your child with you.  Some children are very attached to their care givers and going back to their home and interacting with their friends and everything familiar, only to be taken away, can be traumatic.  They lose everything all over again.  It can also be hard for newly adoptive parents to watch as their children attach and cling to their former caregivers, wondering if they will want to come back into the arms of this stranger that now wants to be called ‘Mama.’  The truth is you don’t know how it will go until you get there.  You have to be willing to take the risk and deal with whatever happens…and we were.

I wanted to capture as much as we could in our time in Luoyang for the sake of our daughter.  I wanted to close the loop on so many open questions that called for more than second-hand knowledge from our agency. Only visiting in person could satisfy those questions. (Mimi felt the same way, so she joined us even though I was afraid her tender teacher-heart might not survive saying goodbye to the little ones that entered her life that day.)  Someday Little Li will want to know more and we will be able to at least share with her some basic first-hand knowledge of the first place she called home. 

 Our visit was the last stop of a marathon day that had started with the finalization of the adoption at one location, then a brief interaction with a notary official in another location and then a 2.5 hour drive to do the paperwork for her passport. (See my post on day 6.  )  Our visit to the orphanage happened at the end of an extremely long day and we were hot, tired and determined.  (Thankfully so was the other family adopting from the same facility. We were in this together!)  The clock soon ticked past the 5:00 pm mark, but the orphanage director was gracious enough to stay late in order for us to visit. What I saw there surprised me.  

The exterior of the orphanage

The building is over 10 stories tall and towered much higher than I expected.  It was large.  Very large.  It would have to be because it houses over 700 children.  That’s right. 700+ children wake up and go to sleep in a mass community of young citizens that band together to form their own family.  Keep in mind this was just ONE orphanage in ONE city! 

We were greeted outside by care givers on their way home.  They were excited to see both girls and obviously wanted to say goodbye.  We then were ushered into a first floor room that was our daughter’s actual room.  There were 14 cribs (probably twice the size of an American crib), 2 children in each crib and 2 caregivers.  We were told that the children only spend a few hours each day out of their crib.  At first you are enraged by the thought!  But then you consider the reality.  If you had to feed, change, bathe and play with 28 children under the age of three in one eight hour shift, that is no easy task.  (Much less trying to the emotional needs of the demanding toddler temperament!) Is there a better way to care for these kids?  Maybe, but there is no ideal solution and always a lack of people, time and money. (Some of the other orphanages have foster programs, but not every orphanage have  the resources to coordinate such a program.) Its just reality, like it or not.

Nannies leaving, but saying hello

 The children were already in their cribs when we arrived a little after 5:00 pm and immediately started calling our daughter’s name when we walked into the room. I tried to get her out of the baby carrier in order to  allow her to interact, but she wanted no part of it! (It was as if she was saying ‘I thought we had a deal and I was done with this, Mom! Don’t let go.’) Little arms began reaching for the grown-ups in order to be held and get attention for just a moment.  While my arms were full, Mimi couldn’t resist the sweetness of the little hands so desperately in need of attention.  She was drawn in by a small, waif-like girl that melted immediately into her arms . This little girl was grateful for gentle hands, even if they held her only for a moment.  In those brief minutes, I wanted to load our van up with these beautiful munchkins and high tail it out of dodge! Irrational I know, but it left me wanting to do more.  Looking back, it may have been good that Mom held this little angel instead of me.  When we got back home and I opened up the photos from the camera I had sent ahead to the orphanage, this little girl was in most of the photos and the video.  I think she may have been one of our daughter’s close playmates.  She will forever be in my prayers.  I pray that God will give her the same  opportunity for a new life as our daughter and the other children in our group. (She is pictured above with Mimi.) It was hard to leave her behind.

Little Li’s friend saying hi

 

Overall, the facility and the few parts we saw appeared organized and clean.  (It was far better than the hospital we visited earlier in the day!) The children seemed to be adjusted and the caregivers engaged.  It was better than I had anticipated to be truthful.  Good. Yes.  Great. No.  As long as there are children in orphanages, the situation will not be great or anything less than ideal.  It is not the the way God intended for children to be raised.  It made me keenly aware and thankful for the other families of the same mindset who had joined us in this international adventure.  9 children started over that week with new families and new homes.  They are orphans no more! The week also made my heart ache a little more for the little ones still there.  I have touched their hands and heard their cries.   It leaves an ache in your heart when you think about the lives of excess we live in the USA. I  could rant a little here, but instead I will move on and revisit that later!

We explored a few other areas of the facility with the director and looked at her playroom as well as the back courtyard.  The director answered a few more questions and then it was time to leave.  Traffic would be heavy, so the driver didn’t want to stop for dinner.  (I was starving!)  So we stopped at a gas station that would make a 7-11 look classy and began our journey home.  (Again, visit my previous post for an entertaining story..) We will forever have a special bond with the other family than ran the Luoyang gauntlet with us that day.

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Day 16- The Long Ride Home

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We were all excited to be home, but nobody in our group was excited about the actual process of going home.  We had a direct flight out of Hong Kong (a 2.5 hour drive from Guangzhou), a 14 hour flight home, then a four hour drive.  And that was the shortest route I could calculate.

Ugh!

View from our plane leaving Hong Kong


 
We left at 5:45 am in the morning and Jason had a van ready with a boxed breakfast for each of us to eat on the way.   He gave us explicit instructions on paperwork for entry into Hong Kong, the airport and immigration.  I almost felt like crying when it was time to say goodbye.  Perhaps it was the fact that so much had taken place in the last two weeks and CCAI had taken such good care of us.  No detail had been too small.  No question too dumb.
 
Our experience was amazing and now it was time to pull  away from the curb and say goodbye to someone who had helped us complete one of the greatest adventures of our lives.   As I looked at his smile as we drove away, I realized that it was likely I will never see him again.  I certainly won’t find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of the other social connections we Americans take for granted.  But I will hold him and the other CCAI reps (Yisha, Vivian, William and Cecelia) in my heart for a lifetime.  
 
 
 

Our guide Jason from CCAI

The sun rose as our van drove us 2.5 hours through the hills to Hong Kong.  I’m  a little sorry we didn’t spend some time in Hong Kong, because it looked gorgeous.  But we were so ready to get home that we couldn’t be lured by an exotic desitination.  I will put it on my bucket list! 
 
We were able to navigate getting checked in (with an emigrating citizen) and to the gate without issue.  (Insert audible sigh of relief.) There were TWO security checks of baggage (one right at as we boarded the plane) which was no small task with two little ones in tow.
 
I would love to tell you that there was no drama on the flight, but let’s be real here folks. A 2.5 year old and a 14 hour flight is not a good combination any way you slice it.   At about hour seven, she got fussy and couldn’t sleep and who could blame her. I got ‘the look’ as a gentleman in the row in front of us leaned up and over to indicate he wasn’t happy with her crying.  We had tried every snack, toy and trick and I was quickly rocking to and fro at that point.  Out of frustration and pure exhaustion, I leaned up and in towards him with a look that said ‘bring it on buddy, I’m doing the best I can and she’s two for cryin’ out loud.’  He turned around and sat back down…
 
Touching down on American soil was cause for celebration since it made our daughter officially a citizen!  I felt relief knowing that were home and could start the next phase of our journey.  (And the fact that I knew  I could order  a coke without pointing or needing sign language!) Because she was an immigrant, we had to wait through multiple lines to finish paperwork (not to mention baggage claim and another baggage security scan.)  It took us almost two hours just to get out of the airport.
 
It was a joy to see my brother-in-law Tony who was waiting on us and the first familiar face in the USA. 

Day 15 – Our Last Day in China

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Day 15 – Our Last Full Day In China

 
We woke up realizing that it was our last full day in China.  To be honest, it was excitement mixed with a little sadness.  We were so excited to get home to our family, friends and life, but our time in China had been filled with memorable moments and people that we hesitated to leave behind.
 
We had the option of going with our group to one of two zoos.  I admit it would have been cool to see some pandas while in China, but to be honest I have seen Pandas before.  They just lay there. Remember Ling Ling at the National Zoo in DC?  (Even our guide Jason said they are pretty high maintenance and won’t come out when its hot.) This may be way too pragmatic, but my thought was that we can visit 3 or 4 zoos at home by driving just a few hours.  I can watch a bear lay in the shade at home! Our newest family addition was not going to remember it anyway.  I wanted to experience something different and unique to the area.
 
So we headed out to Shamian Island.  This is a special little island just 15 minutes from where we were staying.  Up until just a few years ago, it was the home to most of the consulates in Guangzhou. It has the look and feel of a tropical tourist destination. It boasts quiet tree lined streets with quaint local shops and a totally Americanized cafe named Lucy’s.  The buildings and street sculptures honor the international history that must have taken place there over the last century.  To be honest, after seeing it, I was sad that our adoption experience didn’t take place on the island as it had for so many other families just a few years before. It had way more ambience than the bustling metro location of where we stayed.

View from Shamian Island

 
One of my main goals was to get a photo of Little Li in in the middle of a famous bronze sculpture which shows a violin   teacher and her students following behind.  There is a gap in the line and it is tradition for newly adopted children to fill the gap in the line and have their photo taken. 
 
 
 It was raining and Little Li wasn’t excited about the photo, so we snapped it quickly and moved on for a quick latte at Starbucks, where something interesting happened..
 
 
Before I go any further, I would like to state for the record that my coffee of choice in Terre Haute is Rex coffee.  Its outstanding.  So is the atmosphere and food of our Clabber Girl Bakeshop.  If you haven’t tried it, you should.  The only negative is that we don’t yet have any international locations.  I have to tell you that after being away from the states for two weeks, a Starbucks sign means good old fashioned American coffee and is like a beacon in the desert! I have also spent some time in McDonalds and KFC these last few weeks… but I digress.
 
When I walked into this quaint Caribbean-like Starbucks, a girl walked up to me and asked if i would like a free latte.  (Which is my drink of choice.) I said sure! She told me they would pay for it if they could film the barista making it for me and handing it to me.  I said of course.  (Those of you that know me well, know that I could never pass up an offer like that.  The price was right!) I then found out it was for an international promotion for Starbucks and the latte.  I may have had my 15 seconds of international fame.  Unfortunately, it probably won’t be in English and will never be seen by anyone closer than 7000 miles from home.  Oh well!
 

My 15 seconds of fame

 
The afternoon sun was pretty hot so we walked and shopped for a bit, had lunch at Lucy’s and then caught a cab back to our hotel.  (Which was kind of a downer after walking through the White Swan Hotel on the island.)

White Swan Hotel

The evening was filled with the daunting task of packing everything back up (our hotel room had become our home) and preparing our newly completed family for the marathon plane ride home.  
 
We met with our group briefly downstairs to receive our child’s visa and the people who had become our family for the last few weeks, were suddenly gone.  It was kind of sad.  We were excited to go home, yet this was the group  with which we had the adoption gauntlet .  It was a special bond. I felt like it was hurried process of saying goodbye in the hallway and then it was over.  I needed more formalized closure!  The great thing is that our children have a special bond in that they began their new lives together.  (Some of them share orphanage experiences.) My hope is that we will be able to keep in touch and watch as the other children begin to flourish in their new families. (Our group’s families are located all over the USA.) That is the beauty of the digital age!

Our CCAI travel family

 
 
An now it was time to move on and go home. 
 
Your Friend,
Meredith

 

LLI

 

Day 11 – Getting around Guangzhou

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Day 11 was an opportunity to see more of the culture of the Guangzhou area.  (Ok, I admit it. There was also shopping on the itinerary!) More importantly, we are getting glimpses into the true spirit and personality of  our little girl.  It is truly exciting to the boundaries broken by love, trust and attention.  We are seeing a little girl we have loved in our hearts for a long time, start to bloom in the light.  We also have the privilege of watching our oldest begin to grow in tenderness and protectiveness as a big sister. My attention is drawn to so many fascinating things around me that it is hard to know where to look next!  I choose to focus closer to the heart.

We continue to venture out with the group in order to experience the culture and provide opportunities for ourselves and our girls to see new things.  On Day 11 we spent the day visiting another temple, the family Chen temple and also doing a little local shopping.  It was a great day to see more of the ancient artisan craftsmanship so appreciated by my hubby.  

Little Li is starting to break out of her shell a little to walk with us and talk to us. She has been sleeping through the night and we have to wake her up from naps, lest she sleep the afternoon away! She can say and sign ‘more’ at this point and can say ‘bye bye’ in a way that is about the cutest thing I’ve ever heard.  She has become her big sister’s shadow.  Hulaloo is loving it!

 

It may take 20 years to get a photo with everyone in it AND smiling

 

This is a carving on top of the Chen Family Temple


Chen Family Temple

Getting ready for her first professional photo shoot with windblown hair


Learning to trust Daddy’s hand

Tomorrow is a big day.  Our group has to have physical exams at the consulate.  All children over 2, have to have  blood drawn for a tb test.  That should be fun… (not.)

More to come!  Thanks for joining our journey.

Your friend,

Meredith

LLi

Day 9 – Kung Fu Mamma

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Kung Fu Momma

Our time in Zhengzhou was packed full of paperwork and visits to official locations to finalize the adoption and passport.  In addition to visiting her orphanage, I felt convicted to visit more than the mall and Walmart in the province of Little Li’s birth.  I want her to look back on the photos and know that we made an effort to experience the culture and heritage of her province, Henan. When the opportunity to take a day trip to Shaolin Monastery, we jumped at the chance (even though it meant a late return before packing up to head to our next stop in Guangzhou.)  

The monastery (also the birthplace of the ancient martial art of Kung Fu) is located outside her hometown of Luoyang and was established in about 420 AD.  Kung Fu is an interesting blend of religion and martial arts. The evolution of Kung Fu and its survival through several dynasties is a fascinating historical journey.  Our guide ‘Tiger’ was a young guy just a few years out of college who spoke fluent English.  He helped our group to navigate the traffic, temple grounds and Kung Fu demonstration show in order to maximize our short time there.  (It was a 1.5 hour drive from our hotel.)  The heat was sweltering, although I’m told it wasn’t too bad for this time of year.  

We viewed the burial grounds of the honorable Kung Fu masters.   The oldest site was built in 751 AD and the most recent was 2004.  Note the etchings  on the photo below.  This was a modern Kung Fu master and his students wanted to ensure that he had all the modern amenities in the afterlife.  (See the lap top?)

Tiger telling us about the Kung Fu Masters


Modern Kung Fu Master

The kung fu show was my favorite part.  Young students and instructors demonstrated power and agility by doing back flips with knives in hand and throwing a pin through solid glass to pop a balloon.  Simply amazing!  (Little Hulaloo has since been demonstrating her own Kung Fu moves and we have had to have a few discussions about ‘don’t try this at home!’)
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