China adoption diary: Maoming or bust – a return to Grace’s hometown

Part 6 – China adoption diary: The sisters wrangle over pigtail pitch, Madeleine becomes a thoroughbred clothes horse, and Mom wonders, "What if Grace’s Chinese mother had any idea that her precious daughter was right here in Maoming for only one day?"

Courtesy of the Belsie family
The Belsie family took a five-hour road trip in this van to Maoming – Grace's hometown.

Part 6 of Gretchen Belsie’s account of her trip with husband Laurent and their first adopted Chinese daughter – 10-year-old Grace – as they head to meet and bring home 7-year-old Madeleine Bao Yi.

Before having breakfast, there was a minor fracas between Bao Yi and Grace over the placement of tiny rubber bands in Bao Yi’s signature high-arching pigtails. Big Sister was not getting it right at all – the little hair elastics are supremely important. Bao Yi kept barking out instructions to Grace, who in turn came to us and said, “I don’t understand exactly what she is saying, but I do think she is asking the impossible.”

Laurent took the girls swimming after breakfast. Just the mention of swimming, “yo-yong,” makes Bao Yi crazy. She grunts happily and dances all over the place. I packed for the road trip and stowed away those things that we would leave behind at the concierge until we return tomorrow.

Our afternoon appointment at the police station was a final check that all the information regarding our family documents was correct. Laurent and I had our photo taken with Bao Yi and it was affixed to a document that we will show upon entering the United States. The photo we have with Grace, circa 2003, shows two happy parents and one sobbing baby with antenna pigtails. Today’s photo was of two poached parents – extreme humidity today – and one jolly, smiling little girl.

Once that was done, we got into the van with our guide, a lovely woman in her late 50s named Helen, originally from Shanghai, whose English is excellent. The driver pulled into rush hour traffic and we embarked on a five-hour trip west from Guangzhou on a Maoming-or-bust road trip. The purpose was a visit to Grace’s home city with a meeting at the orphanage where she spent a year and a half.

Outside the the mess of the industrial outskirts of Guangzhou, the land was mostly ponds for raising a variety of fish and fields given over to rice paddies. Everything was neat and tidy in contrast to the mess of the city. We noticed banana tress growing along the edges of the fields, and a few houses here and there, but no real population center.

As dark came, we could see mountains in the distance, and then, the sky lit up with fierce lightning all around. Boom, went the thunder. Giggle, giggle, went Bao Yi in the back seat. I got out her small stuffed kitten for comfort but she didn’t need it. This is all one big adventure to her. Little does she know she has signed on with The Belsie Flying Circus.

The entrance into Maoming was shaggy: the daily market had closed and piles of trash were mounded up along the curb for the following morning’s pickup; citizens in rain-drenched nylon capes whizzed by on Vespa motor scooters along with three-wheeled motorized jitneys with passengers huddled in the back seating area.

As we approached Maoming from the highway, I saw the relative isolation of this place and began to think about Grace’s life had she stayed here. Perhaps there would have been opportunities, but more than likely, not. Then, seeing women on the sidewalk or crossing the street made me think: What if Grace’s Chinese mother had any idea that her precious daughter was right here for only one day? Would she recognize her? What would she think if she knew she had a chance to see how she had turned out? Would she even care?

La Palazzo Hotel is another five-star place, much to both the girls’ liking. It was late when we arrived, so we ventured out and had a reasonably good dinner across the busy main drag. In menu roulette, you win some and you lose some. The whole meal was under $20, so for that we were grateful.

Bao Yi, ever particular about what she wears, was incredulous that we had only one sleeping clothes choice for her in the small suitcase we brought for all four of us.

Yifu, yifu?” (clothes, clothes) she kept asking.

Give it a rest, s’il vous plait.

Tomorrow we head over to the Maoming Social Welfare Institute to see where Grace came from. We will meet with the orphanage director and get a tour. It could be an emotional day, and I wonder how Grace will feel when she sees with her own eyes the place she used to call home. We also hope that Bao Yi will not freak out and think she is being taken there, though having Helen with us for communicating should be a great help.                

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