The week in Guangzhou turned out to be a little bit of a tough one; perseverance required. Everyone’s tanks were running on low and yet there was so much energy needed to complete the adoption process. (It didn’t help that Mike had to leave on Monday morning and so this week I’ve been flying solo with our new little man.) We were all very ready to return home with our new little loves and bring them into our normal lives, but it wasn’t time quite yet.
Our new city, Guangzhou, had a similar feel to Zhengzhou with a few notable differences. Guangzhou is much bigger, the second largest city after Beijing, and the fifth most populous. It is huge and bustling, but lacking the prolific motorbikes like in Zhengzhou. (According to my taxi driver, motorbikes were outlawed in Guangzhou 10 years ago because of frequent theft made easier by quick motorcycle getaways.)
This city (or at least the area in which we stayed) felt less communal than Zhengzhou. Gone were the open concrete spaces where grandmas and babies in split pants repose. Everyone here was hurrying somewhere, unlike in Zhengzhou where an elderly motorbike gang, who parked their bikes on the top of the concrete shopping space, sat all day, and groups of grandmas strolled their grandbabies around the shops, and school aged children walked in pairs talking and eating hot bowls of noodles, and people often paused to have their children greet ours with friendly smiles. These small things of daily life were happening all around the city I know but our location skewed my view.
Here I saw little alleyways between structures and multitudes of tall apartment buildings where life happened out of view of passerbyers. As we rode in our taxi to go to the market, we passed building after building, either large corporate and government offices, or smaller high rises – the first floor almost always a tiny shop, packed with goods, entangled with people and bikes, and the rest revealing their ownership as laundry hung from most windows.
Another large difference is that Guangzhou is the home of the American consulate and since anyone wanting to go to the USA (adoption, immigration, etc) must come through here, most of the hotel and restaurant staff spoke English to some degree. This does not mean that I did not have to do a few games of charades to figure out where to go but it does mean that communication in general was much easier here.
One thing I will give Guangzhou hands down is that it is beautifully lush, “the flowering city” as it’s known. It is located on the Pearl River and its climate is ideal for growth. Vines cover highway underpasses, trickling down cement columns and metal staircases. Every street is blessed with shrubs, flowering trees and canopies of shade.
The days here melted together but several highlights (and lowlights) stand out.
Sunday, our first day in Guangzhou, was a bit of a touring day. Our guide took us to a historic Buddhist temple called The Temple of the Six Banyan Trees which was originally built in 537 AD. Here tourists, monks, and worshippers blend together into a maze of people all savoring the ornate sights, sounds of chanting and drums, and the smell of incense. The pairing of tourism with this active sacred space felt very odd but the worshippers seemed to ignore our presence altogether.
Afterwards we stoped at the Old Chen House or the Chen Clan Academy Hall which is masterfully constructed with ornate carvings all about.
In sum, it was a touristy day but these stops were very interesting and they help to provide more structure to China’s portrait for me.
After this easy day, it was back to the business of adoption appointments and it started awfully with Leo’s medical appointment bright and early Monday morning. The children would have to be checked by three different doctors and then administered a TB test. Up until this morning, Leo had shed tears but made no audible cry. The first doctor to check him was a general doctor and when he attempted to lay Leo back on the crinkly paper to examine him, Leo started to wail, stretching his arms for me to rescue him. The doctors exam was superquick and so I was able to quickly scoop him up and comfort him. Although I hated to see him cry, it was somewhat encouraging to hear him express strong emotion.
The next two checks were quick and he passed everything with flying colors. Then came the TB blood draw. Leo was first for the group. They would not allow parents to come into the room so I had to pass him off to two strangers in scrubs and face masks, Leo clinging to my shirt with all of his strength, screaming, terrified at the confusing message this was sending him as I had to pry his fingers off of me. Then they shut the door. I heard him scream for a little while and then silence. He was in there for about 7-8 minutes. Before he came out, I crouched in the door frame waiting for him with a lollipop in hand. When he finally emerged he toddled towards me, sniffling, tears still running. I scooped him up and we sat for a long while just cuddling, his untouched lollipop in his hand. For close to an hour afterwards, he would not look at me. I noticed that they had drawn from both of his arms.
This policy to not allow parents into the room while drawing blood is insane. Critical bonding has been happening for just one week and then this separation and potential setback? Gah!
Luckily after an hour or so, and two lollipops later, Leo settled in to me and was again giving me the sweet smiles and looking me in the eye again.
Another huge moment happened later that day. Late in the afternoon, I took Leo to the hotel indoor playroom. It was a small room with a padded floor, two plastic slides and a few other toys. After we played, I walked over to the larger slide, crouched near it, covering my eyes with my hands, and called to him. To my absolute shock and delight, he came running over to me, giddy with exitment and laughing – out loud! Finally, an audible laugh! What an incredible sound!! I couldn’t believe how big his laugh was – lighting up his whole face. I discovered that he loves to play hide and seek (toddler style where they know where you are the whole time). What a wonderful way to cap off this day that had started so roughly.
Another highlight of the week was going to the Safari Park. It was incredibly beautiful and it was the closest I’ve ever been to wild animals – at one point two monkeys were literally playing on a cargo net directly above my head – it was awesome! Leo loved everything (including his first carrousel ride) except for when two very little tiger cubs really intimidated him even though they were behind glass. Here’s to hoping Leo’s transition to living life with our dog goes ok! The jury is out, as Cooper is furry and loud, but my fingers are crossed!
The most momentous appointment of the week happened the day before we left Guangzhou: our visit to the US Embassy to get Leo’s visa. I raised my right hand and gave an oath, the officer checked my paperwork, and we were done. All that is left to do is for Leo’s cute feet to hit American soil and then he will become an American citizen!
On our last full day, we went to Shamian Island which was formerly the home of several foreign embassies. This area is beautiful with banyan trees romantically drapping down amongst palm trees and manicured flower beds. Now it seems that all of the embassies have moved on, except one, but you could imagine how alluring this area would have felt in its heyday.
The next day, Leo and I said goodbye to sweet friends we had made on this trip, a pivotal and personal chapter shared in each of our family’s lives. I feel incredibly invested in each of these families as we got to share that sacred moment of the first meeting and the first two weeks of living life together with our new children.
Our taxi pulled onto the highway as we were leaving Guangzhou, the wind sweeping the vines bursting with flowers, hanging over the concrete divider, into a frenzy of goodbye waves. As we said goodbye to Guangzhou, we said hello to best friends in Hong Kong.
Two wonderful days spent with these extremely special friends and now it is the eve of travel; tomorrow Leo and I venture home. To say that I am thrilled to get home is a gross understatement. Our mission is accomplished; Leo is 100% officially a part of our family and we’re headed home!!