Holt adoptee Grace Fogland blogs about her experiences on Holt’s heritage tour of China.
On Tuesday, July 9, my family and I drove to the Guizhou Provincial Civil Affairs Office in downtown Guiyang to sign some paperwork that would allow us to visit Lili’s former orphanage (I was the only one who didn’t have to sign my name and stamp my fingerprint). After we finished, we packed into the van, and took a very scary, 5-hour, bumpy, mountainous drive from Guiyang to Zhenjuan. It was scary because the road was curvy and became narrow the further we got up into the mountains. Plus, the driver was going pretty fast around the corners and sometimes drifted into oncoming traffic. But, he was a champ and got us to the hotel in one piece. I don’t know the English name of the hotel we stayed in, but it was really neat because we were in the middle of the town, surrounded by various shops. After Michael helped checked us in, we had a little bit of rest time (that we used to unwind from the car ride) before heading back out to visit Lili.
The road was incredibly bumpy and gradually became very primitive as we got closer to our destination. Once we arrived at Zhenyuan, we met the director and much of the staff. It was really special because the two women who accompanied Lili to Guiyang at the time of her adoption were there, and they remembered her. They were both surprised at how tall Lili was, and kept looking at her with huge smiles on their faces. A third woman came — “Mama,” and we learned that she had been the primary caretaker for Lili. She started to cry when she saw Lili, and it was clear that Lili was very loved during her time in the orphanage. We gave her hugs and took lots of photos with the director and the caretakers. Once we were done, my family and I piled into the van, while the two other ladies and the director and assistant climbed into their own car. Somehow in the process, “Mama” disappeared. It was probably very hard for her to see Lili, so it might have been easier for her to leave.
The two cars left to visit the old orphanage where Lili would have stayed, and we went up to the room where she would have grown up. It had been turned into an apartment, and one of the ladies who took Lili to Guiyang lived there with her two children. We were allowed to go into their home, and another face recognized Lili. The woman’s daughter grew up with Lili when she was a kid, and she remembered Lili. It was pretty neat. After we took another round of pictures, we went to dinner.
Dinner took place next to a stream outside of Zhenyuan, and it was in a campground-type area. Many families were there for the week, and a lot of people were playing in the water. It was one of the best dinners I’ve had on this trip, despite having chicken blood soup and cow stomach on the menu. (I wasn’t brave enough to try either of them.) Lili’s province, like Hunan, is known for its spicy food, so many of the dishes were hot, but delicious. There were also a lot of “Gambe’s!,” which is the Chinese word for “cheers.” It seemed like every couple of minutes, a different person would shout ‘Gambe!’ and we would all raise our glasses and take a drink. Needless to say, we had many toasts during our meal! It was wonderful, and after we were finished, the two ladies went into the water to swim and invited Lili to join them. Being a good sport, Lili joined them, and they got into a small water fight before exiting the stream.
It was really incredible to see both of them interact with Lili, since it was obvious that they missed her and still loved her. After a round of hugs, they stayed behind with the directors to play Mahjong while my family and I headed back to the hotel. It was sad to leave them, knowing that it was probably hard for them to see Lili go for a second time.
Once we returned to the hotel, we took an evening walk down the Zhenyuan streets. The town was all lit up with colorful night-lights and the streets were busy. My parents were the only Westerners in the whole town, so we got a lot of stares, but we were so used to it that we didn’t really notice. We walked along Zhusheng Bridge, and viewed the beautiful changing colors on the Black Dragon Temple. Women were learning fan dances by the Wuyan River, decorated by the reflected lights of the town and temple. There were boats in the water, and other people were lighting lanterns in the dark and sending them up into the sky. It was a magical, beautiful night, and definitely one of my favorite experiences so far on this trip.
On Wednesday, July 10, my family, Michael, and I walked from our hotel across Zhusheng Bridge to the Qinglong Dong (Black Dragon Cave) Temples. The Black Dragon Caves form a complex that combines Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian temples all in one area. It was really interesting to see the similarities and differences between each temple. Once we got up to the top of the temples, we could see the whole town, and Michael taught us that the city curved in a classic yin-yang fashion. In the ancient days, the Wuyang River divided the two sides of the town into military on the right, and civilians on the left. Once we were done exploring the huge temple, we saw (but did not climb up to) the Miaojiang Great Wall, which was about a two-hour climb up a steep mountain. We decided that we didn’t have the time or desire to climb all the way up to the wall, so we headed back to Guiyang, which was about five hours.
We stopped for lunch at a traditional Miyao restaurant in Kaili, and ate another wonderful meal. Michael did a wonderful job of choosing our hotels and taking care of our eating arrangements! Another stop we made was at Qianling Mountain Park in the heart of Guiyang, which was the place that my dad, mom, aunt, uncle, and I went when we adopted Lili. Monkeys were everywhere, and I remembered that it was a lot less crowded when we were there the first time. After we were done, we went up to the top of the mountain to visit a Buddhist temple and monastery. (We visited that in 2002 too.) We met another family of Westerners who were also there with their adoptive daughters and son. After we were done visiting with them and exploring the temple, we made our way back to the Hyatt Regency and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.
On Thursday, July 11, we visited the Guizhou Provincial Museum, which was full of the Miyao culture, as well as the history of other minorities. It was really interesting, and after we finished, we visited a friendship store, which was a nice gift-shop that had local, handcrafted items. They had really awesome things, and we shopped there before leaving to go to a post office so my Dad could buy some stamps since he’s a stamp collector. Again, my parents were the only Westerners in the area, which was kind of funny. We were so lucky to have Michael as our translator, because if you couldn’t speak Chinese in Guizhou, you were pretty much sunk. In Beijing, there were some signs in English, but in Guizhou, none. I liked it though, since it made me feel more immersed in the culture. Once we were done with the post office, we went to KFC to eat lunch before we headed to the airport for our flight back to Beijing. (It was only the second time in my life that I’ve had KFC, so I made sure to savor it!) It was about four hours from Guizhou to Beijing, and once we landed, we met our next guide, Cecilia. She took us to a hotel that was close to the airport, since our flight to America left at 8:55 a.m. the next morning.
On Friday, July 12, Cecilia helped us get through customs before leaving, and once my family and I reached the baggage check, we learned that my passport was flagged, so my luggage had to be examined. Apparently I had carried water through the airport security too many times, and now I had four ‘S’s on my boarding ticket. I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but once we started boarding, I was pulled aside for a “special procedure.” I had to sit down, take my shoes off, and a woman swabbed my hands, sides, and legs before feeding the tests into a scanner. Of course, she didn’t find anything, so she let me go. Lesson learned though: Make sure you take out your water bottles! The flight back to Seattle wasn’t as bad as the flight over. It was shorter, only about 10 hours this time, and I felt more awake. The complimentary movies were nice, and they helped pass the time quickly. Once we landed in Seattle, we went to our hotel and slept for about 4 hours before forcing ourselves to get up and do something. “Something” included shopping at the mall that was about four blocks away from our hotel. It kept us awake, and we went to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner before heading back to the hotel and sleeping more.
On Saturday, July 13, we woke up at 3 a.m. because our flight from Seattle to Denver left at 6 a.m. Unfortunately, once we reached the Frontier line, we were informed that our flight was delayed, and all connecting flights were cancelled. We waited in line for a long time to reschedule our flight (originally from Denver to Omaha) to another flight that left Seattle to Chicago, and then Chicago to Omaha. We switched from Frontier Airlines to American Airlines, so we had to wait in another line to get our boarding tickets. It took quite a while to get through the security lines, since it was crazy crowded, and once we finally got through everything, we had about 10 minutes to spare before we had to board the plane from Seattle to Chicago. We were seated in the absolute last row of the plane, which I’ve never been in before, but it wasn’t bad at all, minus some bumpy turbulence. The flight was about four hours, and by the time we arrived in Chicago, my family and I were incredibly jet-lagged. But, we had just one more flight to go, so we pushed on. (By the time we were done with all the flights, we had flown on a total of 11 planes!) Thankfully, our last flight was the shortest. The plane from Chicago to Omaha was super cramped and small, and Lili and I were stuck in the last row again, but it was only an hour-and-a-half flight. I have never been so happy to see Omaha!
This trip was the trip of a life-time, and I’m so grateful that I got to go on it. I met so many people, and had the opportunity to learn more about my heritage and past. It was nice to come back home to the U.S., but I was also sad to leave China. I love China, and I can’t wait until I can go back.
For more information about Holt’s annual heritage tours of China, click here.