On August 7, 2008, the night before we were leaving China, coming home from adopting Annabel, I let Annabel call her foster family to tell them good bye. I did not intend to, but our guide in Nanchang had promised her that she could and so I agreed. I was completely unprepared for what happened next. Her foster father was not home and her reaction was so sorrowful, so mournful, that she cried for hours, inconsolable over the loss of being able to talk to him and tell him good bye, compounded by the loss of leaving the only world she knew and heading to a new life with a very overweight, red-faced, constantly sweating white woman and her other daughter. (Don't get sidetracked thinking I'm being too hard on myself, if you saw pictures from that trip you would agree.)
I knew heartache and I knew loss. We were still trying to recover from the loss of my sister, but this sadness hit so deeply that the only thing I knew to do was to start promising things in hopes of her seeing some brightness in her future. Of course you have to understand, I know NO Chinese and she knew no English.
But one of those things I promised was a return trip to China. I'm not sure how I did it but I made her understand enough that we would come back some day, soon, maybe when she was 14.
The years went quickly from 11 to 13 and I realized that returning when they were 14 (both girls are the same age from March to July) could cause some serious problems. One being, we were flat broke. I was still trying to recoup from the adoption expenses, plus the ear surgeries, the this and the that that make up daily life with 2 pre-teens. The other big problem, in my mind, was that in China, if you are not adopted by the age of 14, you are on your own. The government and any sponsors are no longer responsible for you. I could not risk Annabel thinking that we were taking her back to the orphanage, that this had just been an extended trip. I had to make sure she knew she had a forever family that would never desert her and so I pushed the plans back to go when they were 16.
This year they will both be 16.
It's really not a surprise that they will be 16 as that is what usually happens after you are 15, but somehow I feel even less prepared than ever. And in the meantime, heritage tours have become big business. I did a google search just to be sure I wasn't making this up and ended up with 47,000,000 results!
A heritage tour usually consists of seeing most or some of the more touristy sites. If you were adopted from China, even as an older child, the chance you ever took a sightseeing vacation would be rare, so you probably only saw the city you are from. These trips generally start in Beijing and then proceed to see the Great Wall of China, the Terra Cotta Warriors, the panda preserves, among other things, and usually end with a trip to your birth city. Both girls are from the same city, so that helps.
Trying to narrow down the right agency to use for this trip has been difficult, recognizing it is probably our one shot at doing it. The Chinese government sponsors some trips and pay the in country costs for the adoptees. There are some trips that give you credit for one child and others that only allow the credit if the child is under 12.
Then there are the dates of the trips. I've been to China in July and in September and I can tell you that both are HOT and being from Texas I know what hot is. July in Texas means you stay indoors or rush from one air conditioned place to another via air conditioned cars. In China, if you are trying to tour, it is a lot of walking, climbing, driving, and finally resting in places that cool it considerably less than what you are used to. So those trips that are only in July and August are out, that part was easy.
There are a few with great reputations and everyone that goes on the trips loves them, but looking at the price, I'm pretty sure they are more of the Cadillac type of trip. We just need a good Honda Civic trip so I finally narrowed it down to 2. One trip both girls would be covered for in China travel, the other just one. Neither trip covers us returning to the city they are from, Nanchang, neither covers international airfare, and neither covers all meals, but they both cover all the same tourist spots for almost the same price. One has you traveling between provinces on planes and the other on overnight trains. I finally printed both itineraries and looked at them day by day and realized that the one that is a little cheaper has us seeing everything in about half the time that the other one takes. One memory that stands out from both trips is the extreme jet lag and realizing that we would basically be running all day every day helped me decide to rule that trip out.
So I have finally picked the tour company to see the tourist sites. Now I just need to pick the company to help us in our return to Nanchang. This normally is not a problem but we have 2 foster families we want to see and really don't care if we see the orphanage, or so I thought. Then I heard about some who visit the orphanage and it is turned into a great celebration and you are given the chance to see all your childrens' files that have never been shared before. Then both girls mentioned they might be interested in going there. One catch - it costs to visit the orphanage and not a small amount either, it varies from $350 - $600! For a visit! Then I thought we might do volunteer work there. That costs even more! It can run $700 - $900 to volunteer!!
Then we have another problem. Both girls were with foster families, but each family is completely different. One works to stay in touch and sends huge boxes of clothes and food for the holidays. The other has made contact maybe 2 -3 times in the last 5 years. I have no reason to think that it will be different when we are there, but it will surely cause some really hurt feelings. Blah.
So now I am trying to find a company that understands how delicate this visit will/might be, that we don't necessarily want to pay to see the orphanage, but would if it did not cost so much, and to do that, I have about 6 more companies to decide between. I keep trying to find that one that seems sensitive to what we might be facing. So far none have.
Oh I'm so confused! And don't even get me started on trying to find the international airfare. When I do a search, it can fluctuate between $1700 and $4200 each!
I know we are going, but I'm not sure how and when.
I'm wondering if there are still slow boats that go that way??