BeiHai – An Addendum

For posts like these, in which I’m telling the story of our days, I tend to look through my photos to remind myself of what we did and to help structure my writing. That means that if I don’t have any photos of an event, it might get less air time. I neglected to take photos of our lunch in Beihai, which means it was not discussed in great detail in my last blog post, about our entire day there. That situation should be remedied, and there are a few other notes I’d like to preserve here, as well.

At lunch, we had asked Glenn if there was anything for which the area or the restaurant at which we ate was known, and he said there was a soup in which they specialized – a pork and corn soup. We’re reasonably adventurous eaters in China, so we asked him to go ahead and order it. Interestingly enough, it comes out in a large clay pot, which is placed onto a gas burner in the middle of your table, which is then turned on.

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We opened the lid to look at it – the way Daniel described it when we were later discussing it was, “So you take the largest pork bone you think you’ve ever seen a dog chewing on and then multiply it by about four. You throw it into a pot of tepid water, along with some corn cobs.” I think that’s probably a pretty accurate description.

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So after the water boils for a while, you dish out some broth and corn cobs. At this point, you might be wondering how you’re supposed to eat corn cobs in soup – a reasonable question. It turns out the restaurant has you covered – they provide plastic gloves for you to slide onto your hands, and then you pick up your corn cobs out of your soup in order to eat them! That’s probably what you’d guessed, right? 🙂

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Also providing some moments of levity for us in the midst of a somewhat emotionally heavy day was the van in which we rode around the city. I don’t think we have any photos, but it had thick, sort of velour-ish curtains on every side and back window. What makes this more notable is that in China, drivers sometimes park their cars on sidewalks, which is what our driver did outside the restaurant. Getting up was fine, but I’m sure you can imagine that there might be some difficulty in backing a fully-window-curtained van off of the sidewalk and onto a reasonably busy road. Our driver’s strategy seemed to be to honk the horn and then start backing up and assume everyone would get out of his way! We made it out in one piece, at which time Danny and Sharon and I looked at each other and all started laughing.

One more note before I wrap this up 🙂 I’d mentioned in my blog post before we went to Beihai that this would be interesting in that it was a trip to a truly small city. It turns out I misunderstood what Glenn was saying – he’d been talking about its past population when he referenced the 60,000 number. Beihai’s current population is something like 1.5 million people – you know, just another small Chinese city!

Thursday – Visit to Beihai

On Thursday we left the hotel early to head to Beihai, the city in which the orphanage at which FangFang lived is located and which is likely the city nearest to which her birth parents live. This trip to her city was somewhat emotional for me in and of itself – knowing that I’m probably closer to her first mom than I ever have been before and will be for quite a while. I wonder who she is and what her life is like, I wonder how our daughter will think and feel about her in the future and if we’ll ever have an opportunity to meet. I hope to honor her as I care for FangFang.

I dressed the girls in their matching shirts, and it seemed to help Madeleine CaiQun feel more sisterly toward FangFang – we’ve found that matching clothes are a good tool for attachment-building between siblings.

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Glenn picked us up at our hotel, and we boarded a bullet train to Beihai. We went to the orphanage first. Different provinces have such different rules – when we adopted Madeleine CaiQun, we were allowed into the orphanage, allowed to take photos of the room and the crib in which she slept and the room in which she played, and allowed to take photos of other children in general and specifically those who had families coming for them who had asked us to take photos. The Beihai Social Welfare Institute (SWI) considers that an invasion of privacy of the children living there. Glenn said that this specific caretaker with whom he was communicating about our visit is pretty laid back, and that’s the reason we were allowed inside the compound at all. We were allowed to take photos of the outside of the buildings and of the courtyard, and we were allowed into the lobby of the orphanage itself. We never saw any other children, and we were not allowed to go into any rooms beyond the lobby. It’s less information than I’d like to have for FangFang as she grows up, but I completely respect the perspective of the orphanage, and actually, it’s one with which I agree in principle.

This blue and yellow building was built about 5 years ago and is now where all the children live.
This blue and yellow building was built about 5 years ago and is now where all the children live.

So many of the nannies came out and said hi to FangFang and seemed excited to see her. There were only 5 children adopted from Beihai this year, so it is not a frequent occurrence to have a child leave through adoption. They said there were about 80 children living there, all with special needs. I was impressed with and thankful for the number of staff members involved in caring for the children.

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These are the people on staff at the orphanage.
These are the people on staff at the orphanage.

I had been pretty concerned about how FangFang would react to being back at the orphanage. It wasn’t the most recent place she’s called home, but it was her home for a time, and we’d be seeing people she knew and seeing the people who brought her to us earlier in the week. She happily went to each nanny and the nurse who wanted to hold her, and she told the main nanny that she missed her nannies. When asked what she thought of her new mama, she replied, “so so.”

I don’t think the orphanage visit itself changed much about how FangFang is interacting with us. She seems, more and more each day, to be preferring Sharon and sometimes Daniel, too, to me. Mostly she’s not thrilled with me. She doesn’t outright reject me, but she doesn’t really seem interested in bonding with me, either. If I’m engaging with her, she’ll play with me, but in a situation like riding on a train, in which we’re all together and she needs to be with someone, she wants to be with Sharon.

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I messaged with a friend of mine, a much more experienced and knowledgeable adoptive mama than I am, on Wednesday night – sidenote to any of my prospective adoptive parent readers out there – the wisdom of BTDT experienced adoptive parents is gold. Before you travel, one of the most important things you should do is make sure you have the names of a few experienced parents you can text or message or reach out to in some fashion while in country. I’ve been here before, I’ve done this before, but every kid is different, every adoption is different, and adoption travel is always emotional. You’re more likely than not to need those resources. I’ve talked with multiple BTDT adoptive mamas this past week and have been so encouraged by their words. Anyway, my friend encouraged me to relax about it, not to force things, but to focus on pursuing overall felt safety – obviously pursue FangFang, but if she feels safe with Sharon, great; if she feels safe in the stroller, great. We’ll have plenty of time to build our relationship. I’ve been trying to hold onto that wisdom.

After our time at the orphanage, we visited FangFang’s finding spot. It’s not generally legal to place one’s child for adoption in China, so children available for adoption are technically “found” somewhere. We know anecdotally that paperwork does not always match reality, but we don’t know for sure what is true in either of our daughters’ cases. We made the visit and took the photos. My personal feeling is that the specifics of this part of FangFang’s story are private, for her and her alone to share if and when she desires to do so.

After that visit we went out to lunch at a local restaurant. Usually we can find a place with pictures and/or brief English translations of the names of the dishes, but this time we had Glenn with us, so he ordered for us off of the totally-Chinese menu. FangFang was thrilled that we ordered a yogurt-milk drink that Glenn suggested for her – apparently that, not standard milk, is what she prefers drinking. She also announced to him that she thought diapers were itchy and she preferred using the toilet! I was shocked, as no one had ever mentioned potty training her. I took her into the squatty potty there, but I quickly realized that in order to hold her up above the potty, I was going to have to grab and hold her up by the legs, putting her at major risk of a femur fracture, and as I have no desire for her leg to break in a Chinese bathroom, we called off that one very quickly, much to her dismay. I asked her foster home when we got back to the hotel, and they replied that no, they had not begun potty training with her! Perhaps that will be something we’ll try once we’re home, but I’m not about to try to potty train a not-walking, Mandarin-speaking child while we’re in China 😉

After lunch we had a little bit of time before our train back to Nanning, so we drove around Beihai a bit, and then Glenn took us to an old, historic street, now a popular tourist destination, and we walked up and down it until it was time to go. Madeleine CaiQun was not a fan of the walking…or of several other things that day…which was not much fun for anyone, but we made it through.

Beihai is a coastal town, and we drove by TONS of these boats tied up - it's not clear how anyone actually gets their boats out of this area...
Beihai is a coastal town, and we drove by TONS of these boats tied up – it’s not clear how anyone actually gets their boats out of this area…

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It was pretty late by the time we got back to Nanning, so we just grabbed dinner at a restaurant in the mall attached to the hotel. Then it was back to the hotel to get the kiddos in bed and begin packing up for our trip to Guangzhou. We were all exhausted. Once everyone else was in bed, I did a little bit of packing, but I really just needed to get some sleep, so I fell into bed around 11:00.

Wednesday in Nanning – A Low-Key Day

Today was to be a low-key day, and for the most part, that’s what it was. Madeleine CaiQun and I were actually up pretty early – me because FangFang woke up and was crying for help getting her blankets and pillow rearranged, and then I was coughing and couldn’t get back to sleep, and Mei Mei because she had a bad dream. Once everyone was awake, we went downstairs to enjoy the hotel breakfast buffet. FangFang is always a little bit sad – though less so each time – when she wakes up, so she was not thrilled at waking up in and of itself. And she LOVES being in her stroller and often requests it upon waking – I think, honestly, because she’s not comfortable with intimacy with me yet and prefers sitting in the stroller to allowing me to hold her – so she was not thrilled that I wouldn’t let her stay in the stroller as we left the room to go to breakfast. As an adoptive mama who knows that one pathway to children’s hearts – particularly children who have spent any time in institutional care – is through their stomachs, I offered her a chocolate donut 🙂

We met Glenn around 10 and headed over to a park near our hotel. This park actually had a playground – not typical for the parks in China that I’ve seen – and Mei Mei was thankful!

ChenFang insisted that she wanted to go on a swing, too, but she was pretty obviously surprised by what it felt like and was ready to be done and get back into her stroller after a minute or so!

Mostly we walked around and enjoyed the scenery and talked with Glenn.

Madeleine CaiQun has not really enjoyed the walking involved in this trip, and she is often requesting to be worn in the Tula. Glenn tells us that in China, six-year-olds would never be carried like that, because they can walk. However, she is experiencing some jealousy and a bit of regression, and while we’re not going to cater to her every whim, I’m okay with her wanting to be worn some of the time.

Our breakfast had been large, so we just snacked in the room for lunch – instant oatmeal, granola bars, trail mix, and some of the odd flavored Pringles chips that you find only in China (cucumber flavor was alright; Mexican Tomato Chicken flavor was completely disgusting to everyone except FangFang). And then we went to Dairy Queen 🙂 It was a bit of a challenge ordering because of the different menus (and our not reading or speaking Mandarin), but we all managed to get something – I got a Mango Jelly blizzard!

FangFang is definitely stepping up her attempts to reject me and bond with Sharon. She cried for about 5 minutes straight at Dairy Queen because I wouldn’t let her sit next to Sharon and let Sharon feed her – until I finally got a bite of ice cream into her mouth, and she was willing to sacrifice her desire for Sharon in favor of her desire for more ice cream 🙂

I feel like I’m making it up as I go in terms of how to live out the specifics of encouraging FangFang to form her primary attachment with me while we’re in country with Danny and Sharon. When both parents travel and one is rejected in favor of the other, it can be really hard emotionally, but it’s pretty straightforward practically – there’s a pretty standard course of action to take in that scenario. However, when you’re traveling as one parent with two non-parents, it’s not quite so simple even from a practical standpoint. Everyone agrees that the parent should be the primary person to meet the child’s needs…but everyone also agrees that flexibility is key while in China, and sometimes “ideal in a perfect world” is not the same as “would actually work well in this situation right now.” For the moment, I’m meeting all of FangFang’s basic needs – I change her diapers, I get her dressed and undressed, and I feed her. I’m also trying to be proactive in engaging her playfully – I tickle her and play peekaboo with her and play with play-doh with her. Today I puckered up my lips to blow a kiss to her, and she leaned in for an actual kiss, which was encouraging, and we’ve been blowing kisses back and forth. I always have her sitting next to me at restaurants, and I push the stroller when we’re out and about. Sharon isn’t specifically seeking her out but does respond to her when she interacts playfully, and I think that’s alright. The biggest un-crossable line for me right now is that if I offer her something (i.e. ice cream), I’m not going to let her succeed in turning me down and requesting that same thing from Sharon instead. Treats come from Mom 🙂 It is tricky, though. It seems a little mean to pull her away from someone she’s seeking, but it is for her benefit – in just over a week, Sharon will head home to Washington, D.C., and FangFang will be left with just me, so the beginnings of her most primary relationship need to be with me.

After Dairy Queen I put FangFang down for her nap, and I did a few more sink-loads of laundry. We should have a washer in the apartment in which we’re staying in Guangzhou, but I need to have at least enough clean clothes for everyone to get us there! Madeleine CaiQun took a bath while I did laundry. This girl LOVES her bath time, so she’s been very much enjoying playing in the water for an hour or so each day while FangFang naps.

Once FangFang got up, we broke out the play-doh for a bit, and then we headed back to the mall down the street to do a bit of shopping and have dinner. Madeleine CaiQun had been insisting that she’d seen a shark in a tank at the mall. None of the rest of us had seen it at all, but she said it was there, and we promised to look. We walked all around the 5th floor – nothing. We said we’d go up to the 6th floor, and we started to make our lap, and we hadn’t gone too far before she said, “Guys! Stop!” and there it was! We weren’t sure what to expect from her description of a shark in a tank…but it turns out there really was a shark in a tank at the mall! Why? It’s completely unclear. But there was a shark in a tank 🙂

After we found the shark, we had dinner (back to Grandma’s Home – it was very good again!) and then did a little bit of shopping before heading back to our hotel. We made a quick stop in our room, and then Danny and FangFang and I went back to Walmart to pick up a few necessities (more water and more suckers!) and get some things to take for donations to the orphanage tomorrow.

I put FangFang in the Ergo for that brief trip, and she was NOT pleased. I’d tried it earlier in the afternoon to an even more disgruntled reaction, but I wanted to try it again to see if it would be at all an option for us for our day trip tomorrow, since Glenn’s advice was to leave the beloved stroller at the hotel. She doesn’t seem physically uncomfortable in it, but the emotional intensity of our closeness is pretty overwhelming for her. Her first reaction was to cry and arch away, but when I offered a sucker, she stopped crying and just leaned away from me and was rarely willing to make eye contact or even look up at me. So…for the moment, it’s an option, though it’s not ideal. But when we got back to the hotel room, I took her out of the Ergo and let her scoot herself around for a little while, and she was back to her happy little self, jabbering away and wanting to be tickled and laughing her adorable little laugh 🙂

Both girls are asleep now, and I’m going to join them shortly. Please be praying for our trip to Beihai tomorrow. Please pray for Madeleine CaiQun’s heart as she continues to adjust to being a big sister again. Please pray for the logistics of train travel with a new-to-our-family 3-year-old with OI, and please pray for the emotions of returning to a place at which she lived for quite a while and perhaps seeing people she knew before her time at her foster home (and almost certainly seeing the people who brought her to us on Monday). Glenn has told us we should not expect to be allowed to enter the orphanage and the baby rooms themselves, as we do not have any official permission to do so, but I’d love it if you’d pray that something would change, and we’d be able to go in. It has happened before. I’d love to have as much information possible for FangFang as she gets older. We’ll also visit her finding spot and perhaps see some more of the city which her birth parents may call home. It sounds as if it’s a pretty small city – actually small, not just small by Chinese standards! Glenn estimated its population as around 60,000 people, so that should be really interesting in and of itself, as every city I’ve visited thus far in China has been home to millions of people. I also may not get to update tomorrow night – we will return to Nanning around dinner time, and then on Friday we will take the train to Guangzhou, so we’ll need to get most of our suitcases packed up again tomorrow night. If you don’t hear any official update from me tomorrow, please be praying for our travel day and for our settling into the apartments we’ve reserved in Guangzhou (and that they’d be alright). Thanks for following along and supporting us and praying for us in this journey, friends!