Claire’s China Blog: From Beijing to Nanning

Holt adoptee Claire Kendig blogs about her travels —and thoughts — on the Holt heritage tour of China.

Day Two in China: Preparing Our Minds and Hearts

Woman posing

Bright and early in the morning, our Holt tour set out for Tian An Men Square. It is here that we saw the pinnacle of modern Chinese culture. This square was a beautiful, large area dedicated to China’s history, it’s upbringing, and the achievements it has obtained. To me, visiting this place was a chance to observe modern Chinese values. Respect seems to be one of the highest-held virtues, as everything in the square seemed to pay respect to a significant figure or event. Even the meticulous upkeep of the grounds showed me that these people take pride in what makes them Chinese citizens.

After visiting the square, we followed Eric, our tour guide, into the Forbidden City. It was here that he proceeded to give us an enormous amount of information concerning the history and meaning behind this incredible palace. The details and history behind such a creation astounded me, and Eric brought each area to life as he described the duties of the people who had once lived there hundreds of years ago. My favorite part of the Forbidden City was the Emperor’s private garden. There were plants of every variety, trees from centuries ago, and an assortment of structures that made this garden the most beautiful and picturesque place in the Forbidden City. It shocked me that such a grand structure could be built in 14 short years.

My favorite part of this day came next, when we toured Beijing’s traditional Hutong neighborhood. This place was a neighborhood that the government preserved from “Old Beijing” and it was quite different from the city area where our hotel is located. We traveled via rickshaw to the home of a couple who lived in the neighborhood. There, they proceeded to feed us an extraordinary home-cooked feast of traditional Chinese food. All other meals so far have paled in comparison to this meal. Everything was cooked to perfection, the flavors savory on the tongue. After lunch, we had a surprise birthday cake for a member of the tour. Her birthday was today, so the guides got together to get her a lovely cake covered in fruit and whipped icing. In a tiny yet cozy room, everyone on the tour shared a piece of cake and rejoiced in the idea that we could celebrate something as wonderful as a birthday. There were smiles all around. It has only been a few days, but it feels as though we all have been together for weeks.

Finally, we ended the day with a very emotional meeting. Tomorrow, everyone heads out in three groups to different areas in China to prepare to see our original hometowns. Our meeting helped to prepare us for the emotions we might feel or the sights we might see as our tour becomes much more personal. One of our guides went into stringent detail about the adoption process, starting from the moment the parents decide to abandon a child. It was heartbreaking to hear the painstaking details about how a child may be accepted into an orphanage, or about the conditions they live in. My mother started tearing up as they talked in detail about first bringing a child into the orphanage. As the meeting went on, more questions and “what if’s” were brought to mind. There was so little that I knew about my past, it was overwhelming to hear everything. But what the meeting seemed to encourage the most was honest conversation about international adoption. While many of us talk about the beautiful aspects of accepting a child into their homes, few people are willing to see the other side. The difficult questions, such as “why did my birth parents give me up,” are pushed to the side.

I did not travel across the world to hear people tell me how wonderful adoption is; I already know it. I am experiencing it! Rather, I have come here to experience my roots. I want to ask myself the hard questions and try to figure out who I am in the world. Tomorrow, as we all set out, we begin our journeys to discover who we truly are. It is time to ask ourselves the difficult questions.

Day Three: Nanning, Coming Full Circle

The local guide to our city greeted us from the airport with a large smile and small gifts from Nanning. He gave all of the girls a jade bracelet and a beautiful woven purse. Then, the people who greeted us at the holes served us rice tea (very interesting, tasted like a bland, raw broth) and gave us adorable wedding balls. I have a bright red wedding ball from when my parents were first here, it’s completely decorated with tassels and golden frills.

I wasn’t shocked when I saw Beijing, which was surprising to me. It seemed just like another large city I felt no connection to. It’s completely different for Nanning. As soon as our bus hit the city limits, I fell in love. The people, the buildings, the entire setting captured my attention. I’ve had only a small peek of the city life, but I feel so at home here. So much, in fact, I can imagine what it would have been like living and growing up here. I can see myself as I am now — walking on these streets, getting lost in a sea of motorbikes, haggling with the street vendors for a piece of fruit.

It’s so hard to describe with words how I feel right now. Even though I had the same skin and hair color as the people in Beijing, I still felt a little odd there. I would have fit in but stuck out at the same time. In Nanning, I could happily melt into the crowd. I truly look like the people here, I feel like all of the people here. I was watching the crowds as our bus went through the city, and all of the people my age remind me of myself. Everyone here, unlike the people I saw in Beijing, seems to be attractive in their own special way. The people in Beijing seem to be grumpy, they have a slouch-like posture and their goal is to simply get through the day. They are busy, and their lives revolve around working, always going going going. But people in Nanning seem more happy and lighthearted. There is more smiling, laughing, and it seems more life in general. The lighted streets are more decorative rather than tacky, the signs that blink are more flirtatious than demanding.

I find such a stark contrast between Beijing and Nanning. I’m not sure if I’m biased or not. But I can’t help but be in awe of this place. I will always remember these next few days.

Read earlier blogs from the China heritage tour.

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