The last days of our trip were spent in Nanning, the town -- the very same hotel -- where we first held Anna in our arms. It has been 14 years since that day in 2002, and 7 years since we visited the last time, in 2009. (Should the next visit be in 7 years?)
I am surprised at how little has changed. The town has more buildings (and residential high rises), and the airport is new, having just opened 2 years ago. But the hotel is very much the same. Many families stayed here in the 1990s and early 2000s when they came to adopt their children in Guangxi Province. Now it hosts returning families like us. We came as a large group last time, and our guide said "The Majestic" has already hosted a group of families this summer.
Our guide has also been host to returning families before. He has visited several orphanages in the area, including Anna's. We set out early our first morning here to visit Anna's orphanage in Yongning district, a suburb of Nanning. The Yongning Social Welfare Institute was brand new when Anna had arrived there in 2001 -- it had just opened in 1999. When we came in 2009, we weren't allowed to visit because the swine flu scare had China very concerned, and Social Welfare Institutes are also nursing homes. The orphanage director and doctor came to The Majestic instead. Both had been working at the orphanage in 2002 and remembered Anna.
This time, we pulled up to the orphanage itself, and again, it was remarkably similar to that very first visit in 2002, when we had had Anna for just 3 days. Just before this trip, we had watched the video of that time in 2002, and it was fresh in my mind. I had also brought some of the photos of the staff from way back in 2002, to see if any still worked there. Surprisingly, two still do, and people remembered the others in our photos. One even pulled out her copy of the photo she had taken of herself with Anna in 2002 at that farewell visit, which she had kept all these years. And the doctor still works there, and held Anna's hand or arm for almost all our visit. The director is new, but she was also very warm to Anna, also holding her hand. And many of the women stroked Anna's hair. I had managed to pull together some photos of Anna's life onto my phone (I had not prepared for this visit well, having really no idea what to expect). The women were all very interested. It was really quite moving. Anna came out of her shell a bit and shared photos on her phone of herself with friends and classmates. They wanted to know about Anna's interests and hobbies, what she wants to do when she grows up, what her relationship with her brother is like -- is he protective of her?
We posed for many photos, exchanged small gifts, and then it was time to go.
We were both quite exhausted and slept much of the afternoon. I don't know if it is just exhaustion from a long trip or the emotion of the day that wore us out -- well, Anna is always tired; I rarely nap like I did that day, straight through dinner. We ate in the hotel at 9:00 pm, and I still fell back to sleep quickly that night!
The second morning, we drove out to the large industrial farm where Anna was found at 7 days old, on the doorstep of the hospital. We had also visited this place in 2002 and 2009. Both times, the staff remembered Anna (in 2002, it had only been one year since they had found her, and they described the day to us, and in 2009 they remembered us because the visit of two tall, very white, Americans was memorable. Also, in 2002 I had mailed back the photo we took together with the staff with a letter in Chinese that a friend had helped me with, and that apparently is still remembered at the hospital to this day).
This time, the site of the hospital seemed both the same and different. The location seemed correct, but the buildings were somewhat different. Indeed, the current hospital building is new and taller, built right behind the old, which had just been torn down recently -- we could still see the remnants of the foundation. I remembered construction going on in 2009, but some of the construction seemed not to have advanced much in the last 7 years. Maybe the rapid rebuilding of China is moving more slowly at Mingyang Industrial Farm.
It took a little waiting, but our guide was finally able to speak with one of the doctors and explain who we were, and they still remembered us and that I had mailed back that photo. Anna had been sitting back near the car, not understanding why we had even come to this place (perhaps it is a bit odd, but for some reason I think it is an important part of her story that should be kept alive). We again posed for some photos and were back on our way. I captured some video of the people coming and going in this busy, but remote, place. Today there are also sugar factories to process the sugar cane grown here, and large fields of eucalyptus are grown for paper. The area is now known as the Mingyang Industrial Zone and has its own website, which I had looked up before we left. But it still feels rural and remote, to me, an hour's drive outside of Nanning.
Tomorrow morning we board the first of our two flights home. Anna is very excited to finally head home and has claimed dibs on the washer and dryer! I am looking forward to clean clothes and familiar surroundings. But I am not anxious for the trip to be over. I have enjoyed (almost) all of it immensely (all but the heat and oppressive humidity, and I could have done without some of Anna's grumpiness). I don't know that I will ever get enough of the aliveness of traveling, when every day, every moment takes on a specialness and fullness, when time seems to last longer and mean more. In contrast, in the work-a-day mundaneness of regular life, days blur together and there is always the danger of moving from one thing to another like a zombie, without noticing your life as you live it, on autopilot. Traveling is anything but autopilot.
But I start a new job and a new life when I get back. That will keep me from falling into a rut too quickly. I'm going to need a few more long naps before that next great adventure!