Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Return to Wuhan

Tom and Nora McGuffey Visit Wuhan China

My daughter Nora and I returned to her birthplace of Wuhan, China the summer she turned ten years old. It was my second trip to China in two years, so I would not be surprised by the dramatic changes in Chinese cities in the decade since Nora was adopted as an infant. Though we didn’t know it, neither of us were fully prepared for our visit to her orphanage and hometown.

Upon arrival in China we spent a day in Guangzhou at the White Swan Hotel to get over jet lag and to enjoy “breakfast with the babies” at the hotel restaurant. Since there are typically 200 or more adoptive American families in Guangzhou simultaneously awaiting immigration clearance, breakfast at the White Swan is a hectic scene. Newly adopted babies, toddlers and even older kids are everywhere, surrounded by their new parents and siblings. Nora was even given a gift of the “adoption Barbie” doll that the newly adopting families receive from the hotel.

The flight to Wuhan was short, roughly the distance from Houston to Chicago. Looking over the countryside from above, we saw new highways being carved into the gently rolling hills, but less evidence of industrial growth across the landscape than expected. The airport was quite familiar, as it had not been renovated since our first visit, unlike the airport in Guangzhou which rivals the architecture of the Hong Kong airport on a slightly smaller scale. We arrived in the full heat of summer, amid the glaring noontime sun – quite a contrast to our 1995 trips to Wuhan airport in dreary, drizzling fall weather. Both inside and out, the run-down and heavily used facility seemed familiar. Like most communist-era buildings in China, it was of utilitarian grey concrete and plain ceramic tile with few adornments, excepting the madding crowd and intense volume of voices and vehicles.

Nora and I easily located Nancy, our interpreter/guide for the next two days. She was accompanied by a driver who brought us into Wuhan proper in a non-descript white van. As the airport faded behind us, I was again surprised by the lack of industrial development in the outlying areas, something which I was never able to fully understand during my visit.

This surprise was countered by the expected urban development within Wuhan city itself. We were headed toward a Hotel Sofitel located within a major business district. Like in Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing, this area was heavily populated with soaring new glass and concrete office buildings, seemingly all labeled as banks of one sort or another. Another connection back to 1995 were the many buildings under construction. All were shrouded with scaffolding, mostly comprised of bamboo poles lashed together, even at twenty floors or more above ground.

An amusing sidelight was when our driver tried to avoid a busy intersection by cutting through a side street, but was ticketed for going the wrong way on the one way street. There was extensive arguing and bargaining with the cop, and the requisite crowd of onlookers, many of whom were interested in the weigouren (foreigner - me) in the back of his van. In then end, he got the ticket.

To The Orphanage

The orphanage was our first stop after lunch at an impressive and cavernous local restaurant where Nora and I ate dumplings, fresh pea shoots and lotus root. Business people at the large tables around us smoked excessively and drank hard liquor during lunch.

Wuhan is comprised of three towns, Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang, which were originally independent of each other. The orphanage is located in the Wuchang section, the oldest and most historically significant part of the city. It was in this area in 1911 that the first uprisings against the Qing Dynasty emperor occurred, lead by Sun Yat-sen. Because Hanyang stands at the mouth of Han River where it flows into the Yangtze River, it has been important port city as far back as the Han Dynasty in 200 BC. And as long as 300 years ago Hankou was one of the top four trading towns in China. In several stages from the 1920’s through the 1940’s these cities were merged into today’s Wuhan.

Amidst a horrendous traffic jam, we crossed the Yangtze River over the three mile expanse of Wuhan Second Chang Jiang Bridge, which opened in 1995. Chiang Jiang is the Chinese name for the Yangtze River, literally translated as “long river”. The First Chang Jiang Bridge opened in 1957 and was the first bridge built over the Yangtze to accommodate railroad traffic from northern to southern China. Prior to the bridge being available, railroad cars were ferried across the river taking up to a full day.

In 1995 we crossed the Number One Bridge just once, to reach the airport. But we were near the base of the bridge one morning on an excursion. At the time we were surprised to see the bridge guarded by military staff armed with automatic weapons. After 9/11, Americans can better understand the importance of key infrastructure and the diligence needed to protect it. That day, we also stopped briefly on the banks of the Yangtze River, where I dipped 5-month-old Nora’s toes into the water. Back near the bus, we bought water chestnuts from a local vendor, not even knowing what they were until he pulled out a sharp knife to peel back the tough skins. As compared to the same root that comes packaged in cans or in American Chinese food, it was a delicacy.

Bad luck continued for our Wuhan driver as he headed toward the orphanage. The neighborhood streets were convoluted and the driver was somewhat confused about exactly which street we were looking for. Stopping many times for directions, he never got clear answers. We were surprised that the orphanage, which we know is a fairly large campus of several buildings, was not something that many locals were aware of.

The closer we got to our destination, the surrounding buildings became more decrepit and the streets were in great disrepair. As we stopped for the final time to discuss directions with locals, I felt a bit uneasy about our surroundings. There weren’t many people, but the few we saw were indigent even by Chinese standards. Several middle aged men appeared to be rather tough characters and their expressions while observing us (or more precisely, me) were a bit menacing. This was the only time in three long trips to China that I felt threatened in any way.

Greeted by Caregivers at The Wuhan Children’s Welfare Institute

We finally pulled up to the base of a steep hill where we were greeted immediately by a woman in a white medical coat. After a short introduction we walked up the slope to the first level of the complex, perched on a plateau with a view far across the city. The four story building was impressive with white exterior tile and reddish-orange trim and roof tiles. The majority of the surrounding landscape was concrete, except around a few pieces of stationary playground equipment. As with cities like Houston or Phoenix the oppressive heat makes grassland expensive to maintain. But I felt sorry for the children who were a couple miles from the closest large park.

Once inside, we were seated in a large, modern conference room. We were joined by a woman in her late forties who was described as one of Nora’s caregivers. For quite a while I led myself to believe that this might have been Nora’s “foster mother” who brought her to our hotel in 1995, as there was a resemblance. With further reflection, I no longer suspect this. Unfortunately, I do not recall the names of the two female caregivers. For readability, allow me to refer to the first caregiver in the white coat as Ms. Han and the second woman as Mrs. Wu.

We all sat one at end of the conference room on upholstered chairs in front of a coffee table. Mrs. Wu pulled out a “100 day” picture of Nora – the same picture we were given by Nora’s nanny. Mrs. Wu told us that she remembered caring for Nora as a baby. While this astounded me, I realized that our visit was planned well in advance, so there was ample time to review files and jog memories. In fact, review of Nora’s files was certainly necessary in order to grant approval for the visit.

Consider how school teachers can remember their students many years afterward. Especially if given the chance to review an old class list or photo, a teacher would easily remember nearly every student. Probably most of us can picture grade school classmates whom we’ve not seen since 8th grade. So my initial skepticism was appeased.

Mrs. Wu pulled out a small gift-wrapped box and handed it to Nora. Inside was a silver necklace, a gift from her own daughter who is Nora’s age. Of course we had small gifts for the caregivers, but I no longer recollect what they were.

Wuhan Children’s Welfare Institute Director Li

When a very small man as much as ten years my younger entered the room, I was surprised to learn that he was the director of the orphanage. We greeted and he sat stiffly in front of us in a hard backed chair. He spoke very deliberately to Nancy our translator, who related to us a history of the orphanage. Started in the 1920’s by a religious mission group, it was taken over by the government in the early 1950’s. In 1997 a Taiwanese group donated the funds to build the current buildings, leaving a small portion of the original building intact.

Director Li told us that Wuhan Children’s Welfare Institute was the largest children’s institute in Hubei province with over 300 children in residence. He indicated that the facility accommodates the most severely handicapped and ill children who are transferred to Wuhan from other orphanages in the province. Many times he told us of the need for more money to be able to run the orphanage effectively.

He said they had trouble transporting children from their grounds to hospitals for treatment and were in great need of an ambulance. At first this didn’t make sense to me, but later when we saw the critical nature of some of the young children, it was apparent that an ambulance-caliber vehicle would be needed for proper transport.

The discussion with Director Li ran about 15 to 20 minutes. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Nancy began to use the word oxygen instead of orphanage. Earlier in the day she had it right, but we had already established that she had never worked with adopting families or returning adoptive families before.

Nora and I were both confused, and first believed we were just hearing her wrong. But after a few repetitions of the word oxygen, I realized what was going on. Not wanting to embarrass her in front of the others, I didn’t correct her. Later, in the hallway, I clued in Nora as to why Nancy kept saying oxygen. To this day we chuckle when we sometimes call the orphanage “the oxygen”.

A pre-condition of our visit was that we make a donation to the institute. Just prior to our arrival, we had purchased two large floor standing air conditioning units from a local store, which were to be delivered later in the day. These units look like very thin refrigerators and vent both cold air and exhaust (safely) into the room, unlike the familiar window air conditioners seen in the U.S.

Having remarked on the duct work visible around the conference room, I was told that the buildings had central air conditioning, but that it was too expensive to use. Thus, portable air conditioners were used to cool off key areas.

Director Li filled out a certificate of donation and we posed for pictures as he presented it to me. This was a very formal procedure for a simple donation, but it reminded me of the protocol we experienced in 1995. While in a dimly lit, run-down conference room the morning before we met our girls, we signed documents with a local official. We were all prepared to present a gift to the official after signing. Thinking either it wasn’t important, or that everyone else already knew, I didn’t mention to our traveling partners that when presenting a gift one was to hand it over using two hands, not one. When it was our turn, I stood and held out the gift with two hands. Recognizing this sign of respect, the official quickly rose out of his chair, accepted the gift with two hands and kowtowed to me. I thought of this incident as Director Li and I smiled, shook hands and bowed back and forth at each other far too many times that afternoon.

It was then time to present Director Li with our gifts. The first was a double frame with a picture of Nora as an infant side by side with a recent picture of her with our family. We also shared a ceramic dish decorated with the red, white and blue design of the Texas state flag. He turned it over and quickly found the words “Made In China” on the back, pointing them out to me.

Touring the CWI Facilities

Just before embarking on a tour of the oxygen, we were joined by a portly woman in a lab coat who was introduced to us as the medical director. She too recognized Nora and described her as a well behaved, happy baby. In describing her as an infant, she made a reference to Nora having a problem in which “something” covered a large portion of her head. I asked what she meant, but through the translator was unable to get a comprehensible answer.

We wandered down dank hallways, which even when painted gave the sense of bare concrete. Though it was mid-afternoon on a sunny day, the hallways seemed dark owing to the limited number of windows and because interior lights were turned off to save money. With an estimated temperature of around 100 degrees, the lack of lights and windows seemed to somewhat relieve the oppressive heat.

Our first destination was a nursery visible from the hallway through several large paned windows. Despite the building being only eight years old, it gave the impression of a hospital ward from the 1940’s or 50’s. Inside we found about thirty children in industrial style cribs, also appearing to be decades old. We were specifically asked to not take pictures in this nursery, which made sense given the age of the children – from weeks old to about 18 months.

Babies were both standing and lying down, with only a few of the youngest sleeping. Quickly we came upon a highly inquisitive child about nine months of age grasping the edge of a crib. Bright, engaged eyes followed our every move and facial expression. Unfortunately it was hard to return our gaze to this child. Her head was grossly swollen, close to double the normal size of a child that age. I was told of the medical condition involved and that the child would likely not live more than a few years. I forced myself to return eye contact and made pleasant faces, smiles and some small waves with my hand. Not being sure of the immediate severity of this affliction, I was reluctant to make contact with her hand or arm. Admittedly, I was also a little afraid. But through those brilliant eyes I could see the completely functioning brain of a fragile child who couldn’t realize there was anything physically wrong with her body.

I leaned over to Nora and whispered to stay calm and patient. I told her that although these are some very sick children, most of them are very glad to have visitors.

In the third of four cribs in the central area of the room was a child we were also not prepared for. He was another 9-month-old with untreated cleft palate. His upper lip was non-existent, and skin and nose area appeared to be pulled up exposing what should have been top teeth, but instead was a reddened jumble of unfamiliar flesh and bone. I told Nora it was okay to look away and move on toward the other cribs, where there were no more babies with such severe problems. Having no medical background or prior exposure to such a condition, I was taken aback even more strongly than with the first baby. But, quickly realizing what this condition was, I reassured myself that with several surgeries this child would be very close to normal since I have seen evidence of many successful cleft palate treatments in China in the past.

The remainder of our nursery tour was less dramatic, though we saw several babies with heart defects and other serious internal problems. But most were healthy and happy pre-toddlers, who were receiving tender care from the three nannies in the room.

The medical director excused herself, but not before I collared her and the interpreter for another moment to try to clarify an earlier comment that Nora has “something covering her head” as an infant. I indicated that we were told that Nora had no current or prior medical conditions when we adopted her. It seemed to me that she was thinking of a different baby. But she persisted and was convinced that she was recalling my Nora. Still slightly concerned, we bid farewell. I looked at Nora and pictured her lifetime of good health, trying to convince myself that this knowledge didn’t matter much, receiving it so long after the fact.

Our tour continued upstairs where we saw rooms for the kids. Sleeping rooms were institutional, practical and not decorated in any way. Each contained one or two beds and a single cabinet. We didn’t see any large rooms with multiple beds, though I suspect there must have been some dorms of that style given the number of children on site. Nearby, we were also shown several small music practice rooms with classical Western and Chinese instruments inside.

Next we were brought to a large dance studio where we found over a dozen girls and boys in matching Snoopy tee shirts. The far wall of the studio was entirely covered with a Ronald McDonald mural. All of this took us by surprise, being in sharp contrast to the institutional nature of what we’d seen so far. The kids were in the middle of a dance class, but stopped to visit with us. We made only small talk through the interpreter, as I was fearful of asking an inappropriate question and making anyone uncomfortable. I wished we had prepared for this interaction better and had some questions on hand. We had brought several small gifts for each of the kids, including bright green bracelets from Waste Management in the style of the Lance Armstrong bracelets. They seemed to enjoy these most.

We proceeded to the remaining section of the old orphanage where we took a peek into a kindergarten classroom. These children were not orphanage residents, but rather neighborhood kids who came for this class conducted by the orphanage. I suspected that this provided additional income to the orphanage, but could not divulge the specifics from our guides.

We returned to the conference room, took a few more pictures and allowed Director Li to implore me again to raise money for the orphanage. With the best intentions I took his message to heart, but knew that I was already overextended with community and charity work, so would likely not be able to arrange for his ambulance.

As we walked toward the front gate, we were presented with a large envelope containing 8x10 glossy pictures of the orphanage and important sites around Wuhan. Director Li inspected the back of the Texas dish several more times, and I feebly tried to explain that my display of Texas pride should override the country of manufacture of the dish. He just seemed more confused.

We received very warm farewells from Mrs. Wu and Ms. Han, but immediately began to feel an unexpected and intensely strong emotional drain from the visit.

Incredible Strokes of Luck

Nora’s adoption documents indicate that she was found on Zhongnanlu-jie Street in Wuhan. I vaguely remember consulting a map in 1995 to determine the approximate location of that street, but we came to the conclusion that it was not nearby. One thing we regretted from our 1995 trip was that we didn’t try harder to find this street. For this trip I was armed with the street name and as soon as we met Nancy I began pestering her to find Zhongnanlu Street.

As we were returning from the orphanage we traveled a very busy major thoroughfare. Out the window I spied the words Zhongnan Lu on a bus stop sign. Upon seeing the next bus stop, it turned out we were actually on Zhongnanlu Street at that very moment. It was one of the major streets through that section of Wuhan, densely packed with a vast array of small shops and businesses. The sidewalks were thick with pedestrians and each bus stop was crowded with commuters. Ironically, it was a short walk away from the Lijiang Hotel, where we stayed in 1995, and we should have easily found the street.

While driving a major thoroughfare toward the orphanage I had noticed a large plaza with a sizable building toward one end. The building was vaguely reminiscent of the sports arena across the street from the Lijiang Hotel. I’ve always had a good sense of space and location, even in new cities, so when we neared this area on our return trip, I asked our driver to make a few turns in that area. Lo and behold, it was the same arena, and after a turn southward we were in front of the Lijiang Hotel.

Despite being truly exhausted from the orphanage visit, we stopped briefly and went inside. Some minor remodeling had been done, but otherwise the main lobby features were immediately recognizable. I quickly climbed the spiral staircase to the second floor and found the conference room where we first met our babies ten years ago. Continuing down the hall, and raising suspicion among staff since I was so singularly focused on showing ourselves around, we entered the room. Dark and small, possibly carved into a smaller configuration than the original room, it contained a conference table and the modern stackable chairs found in any western conference room. Gone were the grey oversized upholstered chairs and militaristic décor. I was a little disappointed by the change, but we took a quick picture and departed for the hotel. I convinced our guide that we should return the next day for lunch in the hotel restaurant and a walk around the neighborhood.

The Provincial Museum and Yellow Crane Tower

On our second day in Wuhan I was looking forward to visiting the provincial historical museum and the Yellow Crane Tower. Besides being the two biggest tourist attractions in Wuhan, they were sure to bring back fond memories of the first few days with our new babies ten years earlier. But before traveling back to the Wuchang area, I wandered around the streets near the hotel to view the early morning scene. As in all large Chinese cities there are more people around than one would ever expect. People of all ages and walks of life were rushing to work, shop, exercise or just out for a stroll. There were definitely more automobiles on the streets than ten years ago, but walkers and bike riders were still the majority. For hauling goods, motorcycles were the norm, side by side with a large contingent of human pulled carts.

We returned over the Number Two Bridge without a repeat traffic jam and arrived at the provincial museum around nine in the morning. I was certain that there was an error communicating with Nancy, as we were nowhere near the eighty year old grey stone building we previously visited. But we were both certain of the name – Hubei Province Historical Museum. I soon learned that the old museum had been torn down and a modern facility was still being constructed. One third of the museum was open and it contained a set of enormous bronze bells dating from over 2400 years ago. That sealed it – we were definitely in the right place.

In 1978 over 15,000 relics were dug up near Suizhou city in Hubei province, belonging to a local marquis named Zeng Hou Yi. The museum now contained a far more modern presentation of the contents of the marquis’ tomb than the musty old museum. In fact, it included the marquis’ tomb, which was an enormous wooden vault the size of a small house. Inside, it contained the marquis’ coffin, coffins for 21 slaves (buried alive, unfortunately), a dog, a horse and an enormous stash of household goods, musical instruments, weapons and ritual items from the era.

At this point, try to picture a slightly jet-lagged 10-year-old, still shaken from the emotional visit to the orphanage the day before, who had absolutely zero interest in regional Chinese history. You can image how little fun she was having that morning.

We bought a few nice gifts for Nora’s friends and teachers and headed to the Yellow Crane Tower. This too was not recognizable at first. We first encountered a bank of shops perched above a large unfamiliar parking lot. From there we entered a small but colorful midway of additional shops selling trinkets. It was a colorful sight, but certainly not anything we saw at the Yellow Crane Tower the first time we were there. This area emptied out into a plaza with a small man made pond and stone pagodas. While pleasant, it was still not our tower.

Continuing forward, we finally saw the pagoda towering above the trees. It was a few steps to the side entrance and ramp that I remember climbing with Nora in a Snügli on one of our first days together. The tower and yellow crane (atop snake and turtle) statue was a little more interesting to Nora, but not a lot. And it was HOT. The tiniest breeze up on the 5th floor of the pagoda was the only relief we got.

There have been pagodas on this site since 223 AD, which have been destroyed by fire or invasion and rebuilt many times. Models of previous towers can be found inside, along with stunning mosaic murals of the fictional Yellow Crane and other art. There are several legends attributed to the yellow crane and the tower with over three hundred poems written about them, including ones by famous poets such as Cui Hao, Li Bai and even a 1927 poem by future Chairman Mao Zedong.

Back to the Lijiang Hotel

Our next destination was a return to the Lijiang Hotel, at which we arrived just in time for lunch. All the restaurants in the hotel served only local Chinese food and Nancy tried her hardest to convince us that we didn’t want to eat there. But we love the local food and it was so important to enjoy some time in that hotel that we prevailed. Nora enjoyed noodles and several bowls of rice. She even ate quite a few chicken pieces that were prepared in a very spicy sauce that reminded me more of Sichuan province than Hubei.

There were no fewer than three waitresses hovering near our table at any time. I talked to them for a while about Nora and our visit to Wuhan. I asked them what they knew about adoption. They said they had heard that American women are afraid of the pain of childbirth, so they adopt babies instead of going through labor. I told them I have never met an America woman who had done that and had never heard of that practice. They assured me it was true. Actually, the pain of childbirth is a common fear among Chinese women, given their slight build. These girls simply took the local viewpoint that rich women can afford to avoid childbirth and projected it upon American women.

After lunch we walked around an enormous plaza that was immediately to the north of the hotel and the arena. Though there were some trees and a few grassy spots, it was mostly paved in concrete – making it difficult to appreciate in the 100 degree plus heat. Even though we initially wanted to explore the nearby neighborhood, we simply took one complete walk around the plaza, noticed a small amphitheater for musical performances and quickly crossed the street back to the hotel and our car.

Once there, we met a woman begging near the hotel entrance. Nora has a big heart and wanted to give her some money. Unlike some of the “professional” beggars we encounter routinely in Houston, this woman was clearly in need. I was quite proud of Nora wanting to help this woman and this scene was one of the highlights of the entire trip to me.

On To Other Parts of China

Nora and I were drained by this short visit to Wuhan. We relaxed as we drove through the countryside for several hours to reach a cruise boat on the Yangtze River in Yichang that would take us through the Three Gorges and into Sichuan Province where Nora’s sister Amy was born.

I may have brought Nora to China a little before she was ready. Yet we clearly met our goal of giving Nora a better understanding of her birthplace and birth country. As we traveled into other areas of China and we met other American families and kids to play with, the trip got more enjoyable for her.

Despite the challenges in the orphanage, jet lag, language barriers and “historical museums”, Nora and I both look back on our trip and smile about the best parts. We remember with certain clarity the moments that were uncomfortable at the time, but were important parts of experiencing China and understanding where our family comes from.

Two Poems Inspired by the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan

Seeing off Meng Haoran for Guangling at Yellow Crane Tower
by Li Bai

My old friend has said goodbye to the west, here at Yellow Crane Tower,
In the third month's cloud of willow blossoms, he's going down to Yangzhou.
The lonely sail is a distant shadow, on the edge of a blue emptiness,
All I see is the Yangtze River flow to the far horizon.

Yellow Crane Tower
by Cui Hao

The yellow crane has long since gone away,
All that here remains is yellow crane tower.
The yellow crane once gone does not return,
White clouds drift slowly for a thousand years.
The river is clear in Hanyang by the trees,
And fragrant grass grows thick on parrot isle.
In this dusk, I don't know where my homeland lies,
The river's mist-covered waters bring me sorrow.

Two Poems by Chairman Mao Related to Wuhan and the Yellow Crane Tower

Yellow Crane Tower (1927)

Wide, wide flow the nine streams through the land,
Dark, dark threads the line from south to north.
Blurred in the thick haze of the misty rain
Tortoise and Snake hold the great river locked.

The yellow crane is gone, who knows whither?
Only this tower remains a haunt for visitors.
I pledge my wine to the surging torrent,
The tide of my heart swells with the waves.

Note: Chairman Mao was a prolific poet, and owing to his position many of his poems became well known. Swimming became one of the most famous of Mao poems. But critics rated his poetry skills as average. Notice that the first two lines of the second stanza of Mao’s poem are almost identical to the first two lines of Cui’s poem. While maybe not plagiarized, Mao’s lines are too similar to Cui’s to be original thought inspired by the same pagoda.

Swimming (1956)

I have just drunk the waters of Changsha
And come to eat the fish of Wuchang.
Now I am swimming across the great Yangtze,
Looking afar to the open sky of Chu.
Let the wind blow and waves beat,
Better far than idly strolling in courtyard.
Today I am at ease.
It was by a stream that the Master said --
"Thus do things flow away!"

Sails move with the wind.
Tortoise and Snake are still.
Great plans are afoot:
A bridge will fly to span the north and south,
Turning a deep chasm into a thoroughfare;
Walls of stones will stand upstream to the west
To hold back Wushan's clouds and rain
Till a smooth lake rises in the narrow gorges.
The mountain goddess if she is still there
Will marvel at a world so changed.

Note: The “bridge….to span the north and south” is a reference to the Wuhan Number One Bridge. The “Walls of stones” refer to the Three Gorges Dam. While Mao expected both bridge and dam to be quickly built, the dam project didn’t begin construction for decades and will be fully completed in 2009.


blythe said...

do you speak chinese? this has probably been covered on your blog, but i rarely have time to read these days! i'm fascinated by both your stories of china and adoption. i was an east asian studies major in college focusing in china, but never got to go because of SARS (my school chickened out of our program), and i've been saddled with work and student loans since. i'll live through your descriptions.

Phineas said...

No prior post on that - my blog is too new.

My 12 yo and I made a feeble attempt to learn Chinese when she was younger, but it was too difficult without frequent reinforcement outside the classroom. I've spent about 9-10 weeks in China, but it was difficult to try to pick up any language, and everyone wanted to practice their English. So I just learned some characters on menus, street signs and stores.

I just posted "Amy's Adoption Trip" this week, (backdated it to October). This was also published in Adoption Today magazine. That trip was during the height of SARS. Amy was 10 months at the time and had a sniffle, so got closely inspected by a doc in the Hong Kong airport.

I guess I'm an amateur Asian studier. I've read a lot about Chinese culture, literature (modern and classics), and history - mostly to support my daughters.

I plan to write an article for the adoption magazine about why adoptive parents should read about China and what they should read. I'll post it here first, now that I've got this blog thing underway.