Yesterday was an exhausting day, both physically and emotionally. It was the day we visited Long Gang. Long Gang, which means "dragon hill", is a district of Shenzhen. This is where Shaling has spent all of her life so far. The drive ended up being close to 3 hours each way, more because of traffic than distance. Both families packed up into one van, with the exception of Kim Reichenbach, who has vertigo and car sickness and decided not to make the trip. We also had our driver and our guide (Connie). After about an hour on the road, Natalie began getting ill herself. She had a couple of car sickness episodes on the way and lots of them on the way back to the hotels.
Shortly after we got going, Connie explained to the girls that we were going to say goodbye to their teachers and "aunties". The girls seemed very keen on the idea. Then, Shaling asked Connie to confirm that she could talk to Connie and I would not understand their conversation. Once Connie affirmed this, Shaling asked her if the "foreigners" were allowed to discipline her. Connie asked her why she would ask that and she told Connie that her mother had disciplined her brother this morning. Connie asked me about it and I told her that Preston was smarting off to and arguing with his father and I whacked him on the arm with a paperback book. Connie laughed knowingly and said, "we do that too". She then told me that she thinks Shaling loves Preston very much and that she was looking out for her brother's well-being.
Our first stop was at the main orphanage building. There is a security guard at a gate that lets approved visitors in and out. We met some of the caregivers and got a tour of the facility. We also got to sit in an office where we were shown a file with Shaling's information. We were not allowed to take it, but we were allowed to take pictures of the contents. It was the first time we'd ever seen baby pictures of Shaling.
Connie read over the contents of the folder and informed us that Shaling was discovered at a much earlier age than we previously believed. It seems she was discovered in mid-November of 2001, when she was about six weeks old. She was in a paper box and the box's original purpose was to transport apples. There was a mark on her forehead that indicated she had recently been hooked up to an IV within the previous 24 hours and probably for quite a while. She was probably released from the hospital the day she was abandoned and may have been in there since birth. Connie theorizes that the family had probably been told this child was going to cost them a lot of money with frequent hospital visits, etc.
The orphanage staff had some snapshots in Shaling's file and there were multiple copies of each one, so they allowed us to take one of each. We gave some gifts to the caregivers and a large bag of donations to the orphanage for the kids. We had a special bag of gifts from Jack & Sonia Martin for their future sons, Luo Jun & Luo Xing. They will have 4 older brothers when they get here. The boys were awoken from their naps and brought to the office so we could give them their gifts. They came bounding in, full of joy & energy, repeating "Hello" over and over. They kept begging to have their picture taken. You can tell these two boys are craving for some family bonding. They are going to do so well when they're adopted!
Luo Xing, who will be Joey in the United States, really clung to Brock, eventually riding Brock piggyback style, laughing & chattering away the entire time. After nearly 10 minutes of this, Brock confessed to me that his back was starting to ache. At about that time, one of the caregivers let us know that Joey had been asking to get down for some time. He ran after us when we went out the front door and even posed with us for our family picture in front of the orphanage. If we could have adopted him on the spot, Jack & Sonia would have been minus one boy when they got to China.
Our next stop was the simulated family home where Shaling lived while attending school. The adults in the house are referred to as "uncles" & "aunties". We happened to arrive while the children were home for lunch. They get two hours for lunch, but school goes until 5:00 p.m. Having the kids there allowed me to take some pictures of some other kids (Yu Bei & Li Qian) who will be adopted soon. It also allowed the kids to practice their handful of English words with me, which they seemed eager to do. I was a bit disappointed not to get to see the two boys who will be following Shaling to Rochester, but they apparently live in a different simulated family home. The staff there allowed us to take a couple of snapshots of Shaling from their walls. They also gave us an award she had received for her English progress and four of her schoolbooks.
We then paused briefly outside of the school which Shaling attended. We were able to take a couple of photos of her standing in front of it, but we weren't able to go inside, as they keep the school highly secure. We stopped at McDonald's to grab food to go as we did not have time for lunch. I attempted to go to the bathroom, but it was the toilet seat in the floor set-up again and no railings to hold on to this time. I decided not to try it.
Our next destination was the kindergarten that Natalie not only attended, but also lived at, with a couple of the teachers. On the way, we got stuck in the worst traffic yet. It was literal gridlock as no one could move in either direction. There were large trucks blocking the way in front of us. They couldn't move until vehicles a ways behind us moved and they couldn't move because of the large trucks in front of us. Eventually, the driver in front of us got out of his car and began directing traffic to back up and then move forward. Once we got going again, we hit several more rough patches like this. Once, we were held up because a man with a bicycle just bravely/stupidly went right in front of our van. We were already amazed by this, but then, he went right in front of a moving bus and made it come to a stop as well. Along the way, Natalie kept giving our driver directions.
At the kindergarten, which was 5 stories tall, the director excitedly greeted us all, at first mistaking me for Natalie's Mama. I tried to explain that Carl was her Baba and Matt & Andrew were her Geges. After the tour, she served us all hot tea. Since Brock & Preston don't drink tea, I subtly drank theirs too, so as not to offend. Then, she came around and gave us all refills. Of course, I drank those too. By now my bladder was screaming, so I asked to use the bathroom before we left. Of course, another toilet seat on the ground and again, no railings to hold on to. I was desperate this time, so I had to do it. For you ladies anywhere near 40-years-old and/or out of shape, imagine balancing yourself in the squat position while trying not to make a mess...it was an accomplishment of which I'm probably more proud than I should be.
Overall, it was an interesting and informative day. It may not seem like much information about Shaling's background to others, but it is more than we once thought we would ever be able to learn. Both girls were very happy to see their old familiar "haunts", but at least equally as happy to be leaving with their new families.
Almost forgot...during the drive back, I asked Connie to explain Shaling's new name to her. Her Chinese name, Long Sha Ling, would have been 3 Chinese characters. Long was her surname, given to her because she was found in Long Gang. Sha means sand and Ling means bell, chime, or tinkling. However, the characters for Sha & Ling would always have to go together for it to be her first name (it is not a first and middle name as we Americans have). Therefore, she keeps writing it as Sha Ling, which would be the proper way to translate it to English. I wanted Connie to explain to her that though we were keeping her name, we were going to Americanize the spelling. Her full new name is Shaling Annabelle Reynolds. As Connie explained it to her, Shaling told Connie that she wants us to call her Shaling "forever". So, I guess now know that she wants to keep her name.