Shhhhh, it’s okay …Henry has been through a lot to arrive at this moment and whatever his situation before this—even living in tents after the earthquake damaged his orphanage—he was at least in his familiar surroundings. But then he was placed in a car and driven six hours to Lanzhou. He was carried into the large and completely strange building that is our hotel, up an elevator, and handed to us.
Shhhhh, it’s okay …
Shhhhh, it’s okay …
We look and sound different than anyone he has experienced thus far. And then he was left with us.
Shhhhh, it’s okay … Shhhhh, it’s okay …Our guides, the Pingliang orphanage director, and one of Henry's nurses from the orphanage brought him to our room at around 3 pm. The hand off is almost never very easy. [Admittedly, our Clara-Li may be the rare exception. When she was handed to her dad amidst the shuffle of families in a crowded reception room at the Hunan Provincial Social Welfare Department in Changsha, in August 2004, she melted into his arms then quickly looked him straight in the eye as if to say, simply, where have you been and what took you so long. Then she nestled back into his shoulder while around us a half dozen other babies were freaking out.]
Things improved a lot for Henry after we walked outside a few blocks to visit a photographer for some required photos, and mom thought to introduce the concept of ice cream while passing an ice cream stand. The sobs stopped. Since we’ve been through this twice before, we know that eventually he will be more than okay. But it will just take a while. The girls have been a great help with this, simply by just being here. Soon he will be taking his cues from them.
Henry is 21 months old but he is physically just a small baby, much more so than Clara was at 18 months, although she had seemed more emaciated. He clearly has the major growth delays we successfully navigated with his oldest sister Dorothy. He is very thin and not so much frail as just little. His face is burned red and puffy from the sun, but beneath his clothes his skin is infant soft. He has wonderful little hands and feet; all his tiny fingers and toes.
He is beautiful.
We arrived in Lanzhou yesterday afternoon. The airport is about an hour from the city because this part of Gansu Province is filled with steep, sandy hills and mountains—less mountain ranges than barren mazes of desert valleys. Land with relative flatness is rare. The airport was small, not very busy, and quite nice actually. We were met by our Chinese guides who go by the English names of Meaghan and Steed (whose real name is Chen Tianji). Chen is in charge and both are obviously well educated, friendly, and sincere. Meaghan is a native of Lanzhou. Chen was born in Lanzhou, moved outside the city to a small town with his family as a child, but returned to Lanzhou for his university studies and now resides here.
We drove from the airport to our Lanzhou hotel in Chen’s Toyota 4-Runner, which has a lot of miles on it. One can easily see why. Western China is vast. Along the highway were only occasional tiny villages with little dry brick square houses alongside steep hills with holes dug into their sandy sides. For the past 500 years people here have been burrowing into the center of these hills, digging out the richer loess sand and spreading this on the floor of the valleys between them to grow wheat and a variety of hardy fruit trees and bushes. Until recently it was common to use the resulting caves for homes. The area is very poor. But there is an arid beauty to it.
Lanzhou sits in a wide flat stretch of the Yellow River valley bordered by these sandy mountains. It is a comparatively poor and dusty Chinese city with about 2.5 million residents. But it has a nice feel to it. Its pace is decidedly not as high-pitched as Beijing, Guangzhou or any of the other provincial capitals in which we’ve stayed such as Changsha or Nanchang. This is clearly a much different region of China with its own character. But when we would ask people in Beijing about what Lanzhou is generally known for we would universally get a long pause, a shrug, and then the answer: “beef noodles.” We had the noodles last night; they are fabulous. But we suspect there is much more to this place. This morning at the breakfast buffet a group of unsmiling Buddhist monks came in and sat at the table behind us. Hui muslim men in the area wear white tagiyah prayer caps and while this is a modern Chinese city there is a bit more of an exotic look to the place overall.
Exotic as it may be, to say that we stick out as something rather unusual here is somewhat of an understatement. We are westerners with two daughters who are Chinese and we are all fussing over a sunburned little boy who has a whopper of a cleft. Aside from all that, we’re a pretty large family in one-child China. But we simply roll with the stares and pointing. People are just understandably curious, their reactions to us tend to be characterized mostly by friendly surprise, and we are what we are.