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Yueyang, Chengdu, Longmen Grottoes

                                                                                   silhouettes from Dover Publications        

FINAL ENTRY  Late July 2013

It is a small world! And there really is a red thread.  That is what adoptive families call the connection between America and China.

Scott was finally able to join us, and our family drove north from Changsha to my adopted daughter’s hometown of Yueyang.  The landscape was beautiful, with lush green fields of rice dotted with pink lotus blossoms and black water buffalo.  A long ridge of blue mountains could be seen in the East and Dongting Lake, the second biggest lake in China, arose on our left. 

Thirteen months ago, I sat beside another Fulbright Scholar named Karen during an orientation in Washington DC.  She told me about her own heritage tour and orphanage visit with her own daughter, who is also adopted from Yueyang.  I thought it was a coincidence that our children had roots in the same place, and we both had chosen Fulbright as a means of helping our children explore their roots.  Karen raved about a tour guide named Jackie and, coincidentally, we ended up having him as a tour guide, ourselves, in 2013. 


Several months ago, using various technologies, I painstakingly pieced together a photo album of my nine-year-old adopted daughter’s life to give to the orphanage staff in Yueyang.  It was well worth the trouble!  The same two women who handed over our crying one year old in 2004 were still at the orphanage.  Thanks to the photo album, the very moment that they passed Sophie to me is captured in vibrant color.  Sophie was wearing an unforgettable neon-green jumpsuit on that cold February Gotcha Day.

The two nannies exclaimed over the photographs, reminisced, and hugged Sophie multiple times. They patted her back and played with her braids.  Here are the three of them during the happy reunion. 

The meeting couldn’t have been more lovely, and Sophie’s smile is jubilant.  One nanny went and fetched her thirteen-year-old daughter to witness the happy scene.  Some missing pieces in Sophie’s early childhood have been discovered, and the hole in her heart over not knowing her birth parents and biological origins is perhaps just a little bit smaller.

The nannies proudly showed us a book, written in Mandarin, filled with the accomplishments of children who had been adopted.  It was a big book, and I did not have time to glance at more than a few pages.  I flipped to the center of the book.  The third page that I viewed featured our friend Maggie! 

Maggie Schiffert is a dual-enrollment student at Northgate High School and Clayton State University (CSU).  I work at CSU with her father.  I was able to share Maggie’s recent accomplishments, as well as Sophie’s.  Maggie is currently in Chengdu taking an intensive summer Mandarin course after winning a National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship.  The nannies are especially proud when one of their former "sons or daughters" learns Chinese.  Here I am in Chengdu with Maggie, just three days ago.


Our particular red thread of friendship has been strung from Yueyang County, China, to Karen’s home in Portland, Oregon, to Washington DC.  The thread double-loops in Atlanta and circles back to Jackie in Changsha and on to the town of Yueyang.  There are many more threads like it to be discovered.      




Finally, we took a golf cart ride back to the parking lot.  I enjoyed the buzz of cicadas on a July afternoon along the river.  I loved seeing the yellow-topped boats gliding up and down the river and could have sat on a shady monastery porch gazing down at the water, forever.  That is what the Buddha statues are doing.



We took a bullet train back to Xi’an from Luoyang.  At 300 km/hr, it is five times faster than a regular train.  As a mother with an overactive imagination, I did wonder what would happen if you crashed at high speed.  I didn’t even know there was a bullet train in Xi’an and thought that I was booking regular train tickets.  The Xi’an bullet train to Beijing takes only 5 hours.  Considering the long ride from the city to the airport and possible flight delays, taking a super- fast train might be better than flying.  The high speed trains have uniformed attendants in red suits and red hats and they are quiet, smooth, and clean. 

We have discovered a glorious swimming pool on campus.  Notice all of the cranes in the background of the pool picture.  This is a typical urban Chinese backdrop with many new skyscrapers under construction.  The new buildings fill up quickly as people continue to migrate to the city.

Relaxing & barefoot reading in my grand office. (Note the large & very necessary air conditioner in the corner.)

Even though we are in an urban area, there is a rooster hanging out in a nearby vacant lot.  Here is a picture of the lot and the handsome rooster.  We heard him crowing in the winter but our electric fans drown him out in the summertime.


If you squint, you’ll see another stray white cat in the bottom left of the below neighborhood picture. They usually have one green eye and one blue eye. The strays know better than to tussle with the rooster.



A woman with bound feet lives in a nearby apartment.  She is guided to a bench outside on cooler evenings, and she must be over 100 years old.  She has an ancient kindly wrinkled face and wears tiny black embroidered shoes.  This woman is surely one of the last survivors of this practice.  Kate and Sophie emphatically told me not to snap her picture to preserve her dignity, and I wouldn’t dream of it.



I couldn’t find much information about Longmen Grottoes on the Internet so I will share what I learned.  There are three Longmen Grottoes, and we visited the ones in Luoyang, Henan Province.  The artificial caves are filled with as many as 100,000 Buddha statues that were carved into escarpment along the river, beginning 495 AD.  They stretch for a mile on either side of the Yi River. 

Visitors should be prepared to walk a long way from the car park to the front gate.  Once inside, there is a nice riverwalk with some benches but little shade.  I did not slather sunscreen on my children because, for some reason, I thought we would be inside caves looking up at carvings and out at the river.  Instead, we climbed many, many crisscrossing steps along the cliffs to peer over railings into grottoes.  This is an adventure for super spry people. 

I couldn’t enjoy the grottoes very much because I spent so much time attending to hot, cranky children.  Here is Sophie: A) reluctant to be in the family photo & B) one hour later, after someone loaned her a yellow fan.


We did wake up at 5:00 AM, and I made the mistake of only feeding them granola bars.  Lesson # 526 in China: fuel up before visiting the grottoes. 

The largest cave features an 80’ statue of China’s only female emperor.  She is flanked by smaller statues of male advisors.  The heads and hands of some of the statues were chipped away during The Cultural Revolution but the hackers grew weary after a while.  Many statues remain intact.

Visitors hike a mile on the west side of the river and up and down steps.  Next, they cross over the south bridge and walk back along the east side, where there are more grottoes and the impressive Xiangshan Monastery.  The loop will take a minimum of three hours or an entire day.  The grottoes are open until 11:00 PM at night, and I hear they’re even more impressive when they’re bathed in spotlights. 


Sophie begged to be left at the bottom of the steps rather than hike all the way to the temple.  I tried to coax her then finally made her to climb the hundreds of steps.  The pristine monastery had a wonderful view of the river.  Kate was eager to explore on her own but the steps were too dangerously steep.  She was stunned at her first-ever sight of a giant golden Buddha as she led us past burning incense and through the red doors of the small White Horse Temple.

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