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Dillon International


Abby snuggled up against me as the pictures appeared on the computer monitor.  “There’s Sally,” Abby said. “I wonder if she remembers us?”

Abby was looking at a picture of the young Chinese woman who had been our guide in JiangXi Province, People‘s Republic of China, in the summer of 2004. That summer we traveled in China for almost three weeks, visiting friends and touring the country, but the pictures of the two day trip to ShangRao, Abby‘s city of birth, were the ones that Abby wanted to see today.

Abby, the second of our three girls all adopted from China, joined our family in December, 1998. She is our child who has asked all the questions the “experts” say kids will ask about why she was adopted and where she lived before we adopted her. She is also the only one of our three whose orphanage we had not visited due to the restrictions that existed when she joined our family. Including a trip to her birth city was a high priority when planning this trip.

“There’s Buzzy!” Abby laughed as the pictures start scrolling across the monitor.

Buzzy serves as Abby’s school mascot. Abby’s first grade teacher uses Buzzy as a world traveler to teach a curriculum on different countries and their cultures and her former students are known for taking pictures of Buzzy all over the world. We have pictures of the small, stuffed yellow jacket from all over China. The picture on the monitor showed Buzzy sitting comfortably on the train.

The roominess and comfort of our seats were a pleasant surprise as we rode the train for three hours. Along the way we passed fields of rice and other vegetables, ponds full of white ducks, and water buffalo pulling plows for the trailing farmers. The countryside was a mixture of flat farmland and small mountains lined with streams and rivers. In some of the cities between Nanchang, the capital of JiangXi Province and our city of departure, and ShangRao, the train stopped letting passengers off and taking more on.

“ Look at Dad!” Abby laughed. “He looks funny in Grandma’s mu’u mu’u.”

My husband, Mark, started running a temperature the first morning of this part of the trip and ended up being very ill for several days. Abby was laughing at the picture we have of him covered in the only things we had been able to put together to keep him warm.

“Here’s the picture of the man who helped us adopt you.” I said, pointing to the monitor.

Waiting for us on the street outside the terminal in ShangRao was Zhu Li Ying, director of the ShangRao City Society Welfare Home. Two of her assistants and a driver finished the group. One of the assistants that day turned out to be the man who had led Abby’s adoption group. He was surprised that we remembered him, but Sally interpreted for us as we explained that we had pictures of him in our photo album from Abby’s adoption trip.

“Where are the pictures of the new orphanage?” Abby asked.

“Well, we don’t have any, and that’s my fault. My camera battery was dead, so we used Grandma’s camera to take pictures there. Later on the train, I accidentally erased all the pictures off Grandma‘s camera,” I answered, painfully remembering how upset I was when I realized what I had done. Moving on, I said, “Do you remember what you saw at the new institute?”

“I remember some of the kids watching us out the window,” Abby said.

The institute was located down a small lane just off a fairly main street. We passed through a gate manned by a guard and pulled into a courtyard containing several relatively new looking, multi-story buildings. Children and workers were hanging out the open windows watching as we pulled up to the front of the first and largest building.

The staff guided us to a conference room on the second floor where we pulled out the gifts we’d brought and presented them to the director. Preparation for our trip included reading a series of articles about Chinese homeland tours. One of the articles suggested asking to see your child’s orphanage file, so we asked, hoping to find an abandonment note or some information related to the Abby’s life at the institute. We were disappointed when the file they showed us matched our files at home but the article we had read warned us of this possibility.

“I wish we could have seen my ayi,” Abby said sadly, using the Chinese term for a woman who cares for children.

We asked about the woman who had seemed particularly attached to Abby at the time of her placement with us and even showed the staff a picture of her in hopes that we could see her again. The staff talked together before Sally interpreted that this woman was not working at the institute anymore and had moved to another city. We had prepared ourselves that we might not see her, but we were disappointed at being unable to make this connection with Abby‘s past.

“ I was looking forward to seeing her, too. Where’s the picture of the workers who remembered you,” I said.

“ Somewhere in my room,“ Abby answers. I smiled thinking of the photo of the two workers with their arms around her. The two women in the picture had stroked Abby’s hair and face, commenting that they remembered a child named Rao Jia Hui (Abby’s Chinese name) and couldn’t believe that this was the same child. I was suddenly grateful for the disposable camera that she used to document the trip, even though the pictures developed from it are currently lost in the mess of toys in Abby’s room.

“ What do you remember from walking around the orphanage?” I asked Abby.

“I remember the baby room and the kids who tried to speak English to us.” Abby said as we scrolled through more pictures of the institute.

Back on the ground floor was the infant room. It was a large room occupied by babies in infant walkers and ayis holding other infants. The babies watched us, a few smiled, while others cried when we approached them. I don’t remember seeing many toys. At the back of the room was a glassed-in area which held rows of cribs containing a few sleeping infants.

Next to the infant room was another room designed the same way, but holding toddlers. We visited with the toddlers and ayis before going up the stairs to the area where the school aged children live. These rooms were designed much the same as the infant rooms, but the open areas were full of desks and the glassed in areas contained cots instead of cribs. The children and their teacher excitedly showed us the work they were doing. Some of them knew a few English phrases which they tried out on us. Several of these children had been following us during our entire tour smiling as they spoke bits of English.

“Why didn’t those kids talk to us more?” Abby asked.

“They probably used all the English words they knew,” I answered.

“You mean that was all the English words they knew?” Abby exclaimed.

“That’s right. They speak Chinese all the time and are learning to speak English, just like you speak English all the time and are learning to speak Chinese.”

“Oh,” Abby commented, not sure if she really accepted my explanation.

After leaving the school aged children’s area we were led outside where we saw the playground, grounds, and another building that the director told us housed adults. Behind us children and workers hung out their open windows yelling and waving at us as we walked around.

It was clear that we had seen all we were going to see for the day, so I asked the director how we could make future contributions to the institute. She retrieved her business card for me and then walked us to the van. We said good bye to the staff and children and returned to the hotel where we hung out watching bad Chinese TV and eating the soup and Ramen style noodles that we brought with us.

The next morning we ate breakfast in the hotel’s dining room before meeting Sally in the lobby. The driver, one assistant, and the director met us a few minutes later for a city tour. As we started out, they asked if we would like to see the old institute building where Abby had actually lived. We had seen a picture of the institute on the internet and were hoping to see it in person. As we drove, I snapped pictures of the area through the window.

“What are those pictures?” Abby asked, pointing to the blurry pictures of the Chinese landscape.

“ Those are pictures from around your orphanage. Remember, you didn’t live in the new one with the children we met, but in the older building that no longer had children living in it.” I explained.

“I know, Mom!” Abby rolled her eyes at me for telling her something she obviously already knew.

The old institute building was located down a dirt road full of huge potholes. It was behind a series of apartment style buildings and was surrounded by fields full of farmers and water buffalo. The building was enclosed by a tall concrete fence with a large open gate. We drove to the edge of the gate and parked. The director, assistant, Sally, Abby, and I got out of the van to walk around.

“Why didn’t Grandma walk around with us? “ Abby asked.

“I think she recognized this was important to you and she wanted you to see it without a lot of people around,” I explained.

We walked up the deteriorating front steps taking in the old, simple, two story, U-shaped building constructed of brownish, red brick. Most of the windows were broken and only a few doors were still in place. Weeds and brush filled the yard and foundation area. In the center of the building was a one story walkway that passed through to the back of the building. After leading us through this opening, the director pointed out the rooms which had housed the toddlers and infants. These rooms were where Abby had lived the first 18 months of her life.

“There’s where I was in my walker!” Abby exclaimed.

Abby was pointing to the picture of the back of the orphanage and the balcony that ran the length of the second story. She was remembering the director telling us that she recalled Rao Jia Hui (Abby) moving along the balcony in her baby walker and peeking in her office door at her. That story has become one of Abby’s favorite memories and a real connection to her past.

Some older men living in the building watched us as we moved around the building. The director told us the men were probably farmers without a home of their own. She explained that Abby’s birthparents were thought to be farmers also.

“We don’t have any pictures of the people we talked to when we left, “Abby commented.

“No, I didn’t take any pictures there because I thought it might embarrass them,” I explained.

As we left the grounds of the old institute, the director had asked if we would like to see how farmers live. We walked across the road to the apartment style buildings where the director spoke to several women who were gathered together. After chattering in Chinese, they walked us around their homes which were made of concrete. Most faced the open fields and were without doors and windows. They were sparsely furnished with a table, a few chairs, and a bench.

The chattering in Chinese continued with lots of inquisitive looks at us. I asked Sally, our guide, what they were saying, but her only response was a smile. I assumed they talking about us, at least part of the time, and she was too embarrassed to tell me what they were saying. We didn’t speak enough Chinese to carry on any kind of a conversation, so we just smiled our way through the tour.

As we drove away, the director told us she wanted to visit some of the foster homes while we were out. We agreed, as we were eager to see any part of the area and especially any part of the institute’s work. We drove for a few minutes, then pulled on to a dirt road containing a series of buildings. An older woman, carrying a young child in her arms, greeted us as we pulled up to the front of her home. She welcomed us in to her home which was the same style as the farmer’s homes we had visited earlier. A few other women wandered in to the yard with more small children. The director asked them to get one of the foster children so they could take pictures of the child to be used in the child’s adoption paperwork. The women sliced and served us fresh watermelon while we waited for the foster mother and child. I realized we were probably watching referral pictures being taken as they worked with the wiggling toddler.

Sally interpreted that one little girl, around five years of age, asked her foster mother why she hadn’t been adopted and if we could adopt her. Her sad face peers at us as Abby and I quietly continued scrolling through the pictures of the children in foster care, I realized that some of these children may have been adopted. I wished I could find them and their families to give them these photos.

Abby smiled as she looked at the next picture on the monitor. It is one of her holding a silver necklace.

Before we boarded the train to return to Nanchang, the institute staff took us to lunch where they presented Abby with a silver necklace in a red silk purse. Sally explained that every child in China is given a necklace similar to this one when they are born.

We said goodbye, thanking the staff for allowing us to visit, then made our way to the train back to Nanchang.

Abby and I scrolled through the few remaining pictures taken during the return train trip, then she ran off to play with her sisters. I realized as I close the computer program that since returning from this trip, Abby hasn’t asked as many questions about her birthparents and homeland as she did before the trip. I’m grateful for the time we shared together remembering our trip to ShangRao.

This story was provided by Dillon International. Dillon International, Inc., is a licensed, non-profit, Tulsa, OK-based adoption agency that has specialized in international adoptions since 1972. The agency provides adoption services and humanitarian aid in South Korea, India, China, Haiti, Guatemala, and Vietnam. Dillon also provides post-adoption services, such as heritage camps, tours to Korea and China, and support services for adoptive families. http://www.dillonadopt.com

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