Tom and Nora McGuffey Visit
My daughter Nora and I returned to her birthplace of
Upon arrival in
The flight to
Nora and I easily located Nancy, our interpreter/guide for the next two days. She was accompanied by a driver who brought us into
This surprise was countered by the expected urban development within
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.
Amidst a horrendous traffic jam, we crossed the Yangtze River over the three mile expanse of
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
Bad luck continued for our
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
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
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
Director Li told us that Wuhan Children’s Welfare Institute was the largest children’s institute in
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
On our second day in
We returned over the
In 1978 over 15,000 relics were dug up near Suizhou city in
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
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
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
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
On To Other Parts of
Nora and I were drained by this short visit to
I may have brought Nora to
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
Two Poems Inspired by the
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
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
(1927) Yellow Crane Tower
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.
I have just drunk the waters of
And come to eat the fish of Wuchang.
Now I am swimming across the great Yangtze,
Looking afar to the open sky of
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