Dispatch 10

Date:  June 24, 2001. Sunday.

Location:  Guangzhou

Greetings from Guangzhou!  We are now on the last leg of our travel within China and are staying at the famous White Swan Hotel.

Friday was our last full day in Nanchang, and Dr. Qu and his wife invited us to their home for a home-cooked meal, Chinese style.  They live in an above-average apartment for Nanchang standards:  4th floor walk-up, spacious, with a sun room on the north side and a terrace on the south.  The electricity in Nanchang comes and goes, so there’s little point in keeping a refrigerator full of perishable food.  Consequently, everything that Mrs. Qu cooked for us was fresh.  And oh, what a cook she is!  She left work for a few hours and whipped up a fabulous meal for us that included nine dishes, all of which were exceptionally good.  Combined with the green tea that Jiangxi province is famous for and an excellent and inexpensive Chinese red wine ($1.25/liter), this meal was fit for a king.

Lunch with Dr. and Mrs. Qu.

Elle was too tired to eat much of it, though. She was sitting next to Robert and at one point leaned into his lap and fell asleep.  You can see her in the left side of the above photo, sacked out on the sofa. By the way, the dress Susannah is wearing in this photograph is the first and only piece of clothing she has purchased in China–and which she got expressly to honor the Qu’s invitation.  It was a humbling shopping experience:  It was difficult, in the short time she had allotted to choosing a suitable dress, for her to find much choice among the XXL sizes–and she finally had to settle for a voile dress with expanding elastic in the back.  Oh, well…. (Another, really slight American woman reported that when she went into a store the salesladies rushed her, repeating, reassuringly, that “We have ‘large’! We have ‘large’!”)

Dr. and Mrs. Qu will be coming to the United States in the future, and it will be our turn to treat them with the gracious hospitality that they have shown us.

Outside the Qu apartment.

Saturday morning was spent puttering around the hotel room and figuring out how to pack all of our stuff into a mere three bags. And, four of the five Leping families from our group got together and purchased an electronic piano for the orphanage.  While we each had donated $3,000 cash directly to the orphanage, all of that money is apparently budgeted and spent on infrastructure, food, and financing major capital improvements for the entire facility.  Little of it is available for relatively small, quality-of-life purchases, so frequently families will pitch in and buy some such item.  Knowing a good instrument from a less good one, Susannah spent Saturday morning shopping around Nanchang for a sturdy model keyboard.  She settled on a 61-key Yamaha complete with a stand and several beginning books of instruction, then organized the families to write an inscription (translated into Chinese by our coordinators) to the orphanage, which all of us signed.  We left Nanchang convinced our combined $1750 Yuan expenditure was well, well spent–a very good way to improve the quality of life for the Leping children.  The families with children from other orphanages also bought similar items for their respective SWIs.

Elle was in high spirits all morning, but when she awoke from her late morning nap and saw that our bags were packed she became very somber and suspicious.  She knew something was up but didn’t understand what.  The stability she had enjoyed for the six days since we received her was just about to be upset as we shipped off for Guangzhou.  When Dr. and Mrs. Qu arrived at the hotel to see us off, Elle cried and would have nothing to do with them.  She would not even make eye contact nor allow them to touch her.  Did she think we were planning on leaving her with the Qu’s?  Even though Dr. Qu (at our request) told her in Chinese that she was to go with her ma ma and ba ba while pointing to us, she continued to look extremely worried.    We can guess, but we’ll never know.

As we piled into the bus to go out to the airport, our Elle was certainly a grave-looking little girl.

A very sad girl.

But soon after we arrived at the airport all the new sights and sounds seem to have stimulated her back to her cheerful self.  We waltzed onto the airplane and proceeded to have a very enjoyable, mercifully short flight to Guangzhou.

Elle is capable of drinking competently from an open cup or glass, but we have cultivated in her the habit of drinking from a spillproof sippy cup. This is so we can offer her the sippy cup during the airplane’s ascent and descent stages when her ears are likely to feel the change in pressure.  It was our hope that sucking on the sippy cup would equalize the pressure in her ears and help her avoid discomfort.  We do not know whether our plan worked, but she did have a pleasant flight.  After a short period of squirming (she didn’t have her own seat), she settled in to look out the window, gnawing on the biscuits included in the snack box.  What a good traveller she is!  In this photo, we have all three just been through Elle’s first airplane takeoff.

In the air for the first time.

The flight from Nanchang to Guangzhou was a little over an hour in length. The Guangzhou airport uses old-fashioned ladder trucks rather than gates connected to the terminal, so we climbed down from the plane directly onto the tarmac and into a waiting bus.  After a short ride to the baggage claim area and a L O N G walk with our luggage to the parking lot, we boarded yet another tour bus and headed for the famous White Swan hotel.  We had rejected the pizza the tour group offered and opted, instead, for a light meal at one of the elegant Chinese restaurants in the hotel.  (We passed up the ritzy one that specialized in provincial  delicacies like “braised pig intestine” and “sauteed fish snouts.” Call us old fashioned.)

This morning, Sunday, the whole group took a bus to White Cloud Mountain, a local park in the relatively low mountains that surround Guangzhou.

The park is a very popular place for families to walk, practice Tai Chi, and contemplate the scenic overlook of the city, the manicured scholar-garden landscaping lining the roadway to the summit, and the carefully tended flowers.  There’s also a spectacular “bird park” at the top of the mountain, home to thousands of birds, some of them trained.  You may have read other accounts of the trained parrots who will fly through a particular amphitheater and collect 5, 10, and 20 Yuan notes that tourists hold aloft (they are trained to reject 1 Yuan notes and smaller).  We saw the amphitheater but not the show.

Instead, we went into a gigantic walk-through bird cage.  If anyone ever had any doubt whether Elle is our kid, those doubts may now be put to rest.  She is definitely an animal watcher!  She had a blast looking at the various birds flying, hopping, and swimming past inside this enormous enclosure.  To give you an idea of its size, this photo was taken near the middle of it next to the swans.  Elle has clearly regained her happy state.

Inside the big bird cage at White Cloud Mountain.

Just like Susannah and Robert, Eleanor is an explorer.  Typical of children her age (20 months), she is interested in everything she encounters.  It is a delight to go through the world with this child– and hard to believe it’s only been a week since we were introduced to a grief-stricken little girl.  The three of us have become a family in such a short while.

Exploring nature.

We have the rest of today free to explore Shamian Island and Guangzhou.  We are planning Elle’s medical checkup and visa photograph session for Monday; our  appointment at the American Consulate is scheduled for Tuesday.  We will pick up her visa on Wednesday and be home Thursday morning, U.S. time, after a twenty-four hour trip.  Tempus fugit!


Robert & Susannah / http://eleanorjean.com