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Grace with her mom and sister Lili in front of a picture of Chairman Mao in a Beijing shop window.

Adoptee Marie Zander shares about her experience on Holt’s annual heritage tour of China.

We Made It!

My family and I left the Alexis Hotel in Seattle at 5:00 pm and got to the airport around 6:00 pm. Luckily on the plane, there was a handy-dandy touch-screen television with complimentary movies and television shows that kept my sister, Lili, and me busy for pretty much the whole flight. The 11 and 1/2-hour flight didn’t seem very long until the last couple of hours when my eyes were tired from being glued to the small TV screen, and my back began to hurt from sitting in the same upright position for so long. However, we soon landed in Beijing at 11 pm, and met one of our tour guides for the trip, Amber. Another Holt family was on our flight with us (Kathy and Marie) and we all traveled to the Grand Hotel Beijing together. Upon arrival, we learned that we had two separate rooms a couple of doors away from each other. Somehow, Lili and I were placed in one room while my parents were in the other. Of course, Lili and I were all for it, while my parents had some concerns. Ultimately though,  we had our own separate room away from the ‘rents. It was pretty liberating! (Un)fortunately, when Lili and I got in the room and climbed into bed, we immediately conked out from exhaustion, so we didn’t have time to sneakily watch TV or any other such sly things like that. Losing 13 hours really took it out of us!

The next day, we ate a yummy buffet breakfast in the hotel, and then, by chance, watched a beautiful wedding ceremony that took place in the hotel. Another one of our tour guides, Eric, told us that weddings in China usually happen at 10:58 or 11:08 in the mornings because the times end in the the lucky number 8. After watching the wedding, we headed out to do some sight-seeing and shopping. My family and I walked down a nearby shopping street, called Wang Fu Jing, and spent our morning and afternoon exploring the multiple shopping places and areas. In one of the food markets there were live, breathing scorpions on a stick resting next to dead seahorses on their own sticks! It was interesting, but I didn’t try one. Another food market we visited had piles of brightly colored wrapped items, which we thought were candy so we took a lot. (Also, the shopkeeper made sure we left with plenty, since we paid by weight.) It was only later when we returned to the hotel that we realized that we bought over a pound of dried fruit/candy, some of which we enjoyed, and some of which were…interesting. Mom got a hat, and we all bought cloth coin purses with Chinese words and humorous English translations. For example: “Not ruthless people stand firm,” “Chairman Mao praises me good at chat,” and “The world must speak Chinese.”

After wandering, we returned back to the hotel for lunch, and then relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon. We went to our tour guide’s room to receive a light dinner, and then returned to our rooms to unwind some more and eat. Tomorrow we will be going to the Temple of Heaven and a silk shop. It should be interesting! — Grace Fogland

Day One: Beijing

Woman posing

Being in a foreign country is an opportunity that, for most of us, almost never presents itself. It is not something the average person can normally relate to; I had a very limited idea of what my heritage tour was going to be like. After a 14 hour plane ride, landing in Beijing was a pleasant change of scenery (compared to the back of an upholstered plane seat). We were greeted by one of our lovely BLAS (Bridge of Love Adoption Service) tour guides, Eric, and then transported via bus to our home for the next three days — the Grand Beijing Hotel.
While my mother and I were exhausted from our flight, we could not hep but realize the shocking news: we were in Beijing, China! Everything was interesting as soon as we touched down. From the big things like the sheer amount of people to the little things like the type of Starbucks tea they served. It was (and still is) a total sensory overload.

One of the girls on this trip is also from my very own high school (talk about fate). So after we checked into our hotel, Lina, her mother, my mother, and I went to explore the market place by our hotel. While there were many trinkets to buy, the most interesting thing there was the food. We saw many things such as little cakes, candies, an assortment of meats, fruits, and other fried delights. It seems popular for food to be put on sticks (who doesn’t like portable food?)! Whether it be a bug, a bird, some fruit, or a many-legged sea creature, you will probably be able to find it in the market. Want to know what is more terrifying than a scorpion on a stick? Seeing several scorpions, still alive, wiggling on a stick, waiting to be cooked. While this does not accurately portray all of the wonderful food you can eat in China, needless to say I did not eat anything from the market place that night.

Our first official tour day in Beijing started off with a breakfast buffet in the hotel. I decided to test my intestines by eating some buns stuffed with red bean paste, noodles and fruit. While it isn’t your average American meal, it sure beats eating milk and Wheaties for breakfast. I’m not sure how long my stomach will last constantly drinking delicious tea and stuffing my face full of carbohydrates  — I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for really good noodles! — but I’m not willing to go down without a fight. This food is totally worth it.
Later in the day, our group toured a silk factory. We were given a presentation on silk and then measured for our complimentary traditional silk gowns. I talked with some of the workers there and even made a new friend. The store items were beautiful, both to see and to touch. Also, knowing the work that goes into making silk products makes them seem that much more special.

After the Silk Factory, we strolled through the Temple of Heaven. It was a beautiful historical place where we were able to learn about the history and culture of China. Our guide, Eric, explained the historical significance of this place and the symbols engrained in the architecture of the temple. Many people looked at us — I can only imagine how odd our tour group must look to them — and it made me realize how special this trip is. I am surrounded by so many people who have gone through what I have. We can all relate on a deeper, more personal level, whether we realize it or not. Something truly special has brought us together and we should be proud of ourselves. People here look at us not only because we are different, but because we are extraordinary. The actions my parents took 18 years ago were extraordinary.

Reflecting now, I ca not help but think that everything — the food, the people, the city — is so very . . . foreign! Beijing is a city like no other, and I want to soak up every moment of this trip. There is so much to see and so much to learn in just two short weeks. I will be trying to catch up on 18 years of what could have been. It is a monster of a task to take on, but I willingly accept this challenge. I know it will be worth it in the end. — Claire Kendig

What a day!!!

Ballerina posing

We began our first day of touring by having everyone in the Holt and BLAS (Bridge of Love Adoption Service) tour get together. The group leaders and organizers did a few “ice-breakers” and did a short orientation. Then the adventure began! They hit us first by having all of us experience our first REAL Chinese meal. All the food was served family style around round tables. A large  Lazy Susan was in the middle. The waiters and waitress would place different plates of food on it, then “Bon Appetit!”  Each person had a small plate in front of them and we would take turns picking what food we wanted to try or have. I did my best to try everything. To my surprise, I found all of the food pretty delicious. Without question, all of it is more spicy than the typical “American” food. Chopsticks were also something new and fun to use. I’ll just say I don’t totally stink at them, but I still need a lot of work (haha).

After lunch, our group got a tour of a silk factory. Someone inside explained the whole process of getting the silk, and also how they turned the silk cocoons and strings into comforters for beds. I learned that silk is actually a good natural source for comfort. It doesn’t get as much dust in it, and it helps to keep the wearer or user warm or cool depending on the season. Thanks to BLAS and Holt, all the girls were allowed to choose a fabric they wanted for a specially made traditional Chinese dress. Every dress would be unique to the individual girl, having measurements that fit specifically to the wearer. The girl also got to pick the style of the dress. Can you say too COOL?!!! This pretty much guaranteed that all of the girls’ dresses would be personal to the girl. The Chinese boys on this trip also got to choose fabric for their traditional men’s silk outfit.

Our next surprise was a tour of the “Heaven’s Garden.” I never realized how much history Chinese culture has — like truly realize. It’s absolutely remarkable. My BLAS tour guide, Amanda, explained why some of the buildings has specific shapes and what the shapes meant. She also talked about why they were built that way, what they were built for, who used them, the history of them, how they were used, and who could use them. I feel like that she could have even gone on about them more than she did. It is just amazing how well these people know their history, and how they can remember. I know I would be lost on just which Emperor was which, or in what dynasty things were made. Amanda would tell us some history about each place then everyone would get a while to go take pictures and explore. A lot of Chinese people stared at our group and the girls in our group. I’m sure we looked odd to them — Chinese girls with “white” American parents. I stared right back, though, haha; I’m still not quite used to seeing this many Asian people in one place.

At the end of all this, I’m just exhausted but very happy and satisfied with the day. It wears a person out. A lot of walking is required as well. Tomorrow we get to see the Forbidden City! More walking!!! (But I’m 110% sure it will be worth it 🙂 )

Marie Zander | Adoptee

Learn more about Holt’s annual heritage tour of China


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