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China: Day 8 – Lotus (and Turtle) Trumps Aluminum... The Ultimate 10th Anniversary Gift

Hallmark tells us that the appropriate 10th anniversary present is made of aluminum. Nonsense. I’ve got one better. Sarah and I celebrated Thursday with 19.8 pounds of pure Chinese delight – who goes by the name “little lotus” – and there’s no doubt that this year we gave and got the ultimate gift. Even gold at our 50th stands no chance.

Seeing that our biggest wedding anniversary yet fell just three days after we became first-time parents, we (happily) paused our tradition of visiting a new National Park each year. Instead of hiking a river gorge wearing CamelBaks and eating Clif Bars, we chose to walk the beautiful city of Nanjing, China wearing a toddler and mixing formula along the way. Oh how life has changed, but dang we wouldn’t change a thing.

Knowing we’d be out for a lengthy stroll, we tried out the ole’ Beco baby carrier on Dad here. As with most things, it seems, Julia took to being fastened into this new gizmo with a smile… sucking her thumb, quickly adjusting to her new position, and beginning to observe her changing surroundings.

Nanjing is really a beautiful city, and we’ve quickly fallen in love with this place, not only for the significance of it hosting our family union. The roads are lined with shaded, arching trees and the city’s botanical budget must be astronomical, as every street corner is landscaped meticulously with multi-color flora. It has the clean, big city feel of a Chicago mixed with some European artistic flare, of course rounded out with a heavy dose of classic Asian architecture and culture.

The walking tour started with a trip to Walmart. Yep, Chinese Walmart. Similar in some ways, very different in others. Like, “very different” meaning turtles floating in the “seafood” tanks in the food center. The best part was the local lady who literally sprinted after us, thinking she was spotting a foreign baby. After removing the hoodie from Julia’s head and revealing that we only (only!) had a Chinese tike in tow, the lady was sorely disappointed and slowly slid her iPhone back in her pocket. And so began a theme for the day, with two white folks sticking out like a sore thumb and attracting attention everywhere we went. We were told before we came that most Chinese have never traveled overseas, and in some towns here, it’s not THAT common for Americans to visit. It’s also not rude to stare in this part of the world (or take pictures of strangers, it seems). So throughout the day, we’d catch locals sheepishly snapping cell phone shots of us. They were shocked – but excited – when we’d turn and pose, flash a peace sign as a gesture of good will, and give them a full-on memento of their sighting. And don’t get us started with the hilarious stories about the old women who come up to us everywhere (photo below), and freely squeeze Julia’s cheeks… or worse, yank her hand out of her mouth and shake their finger at us if she’s sucking her thumb. Or the grandmother who let her toddler climb all over Julia at breakfast, then proceed to set their kid’s food right next to Sarah’s plate on OUR table as this old lady fed him hovered over the little lotus’ head. These folks are a hoot, and only a week into this trip we’re not only comfortable at times being the only westerners in sight… we’re absolutely embracing the unique opportunity to bond with another culture and provide such simple entertainment by merely walking by.

In general, we’ve become enamored with the Chinese people. As a whole, they seem to have such kind spirits and whether it’s a hotel lobby staff or local street vendor, they carry themselves with a smile and are quick to welcome an exchange (even though nine times out of 10 the language barrier prevents any real dialogue). Most touching has been the few “conversations” we’ve had with locals about adoption; it’s either a subtle-but-significant pat on the shoulder or small comment in broken English (like, “You do a good thing.”) that has reassured us that the people here “get it” and see our hearts and motivation for being here.

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Just when we thought we might be pushing the little lotus’ limits on being away from the hotel and spending way too much time constricted in a carrier (not to mention with a wet diaper perhaps), she initiated some seriously-good bonding as we walked. After she accidentally first looked up because of a rain drop that had hit her head from a building way above, she realized that “swooping” back was actually a pretty fun little maneuver. As she started kicking her head back to gesture “come on Daddy!” … I more than obliged, knowing that this kind of connection was a blessing for only four days in. Even though Sarah was on the camera side of that particular interaction, Mom has a knack for the giggle-inducing moves even more than me at this point. Julia is bonding with us both, but definitely loves her Mommy. For this, we’re so, so grateful.

The long celebratory stroll took us through Nanjing’s famous Confucius Temple area, which was originally constructed in 1034. The district features the gorgeous, historic temple at the core and a huge grid of small streets lined with vendors and artisans along the Qin Huai River. We found some trinkets for Julia’s nursery, including a most special find: an intricate, handmade, cut-paper lotus flower art piece for her wall (at the tune of a sadly inexpensive $14 U.S. dollars).

The afternoon ended with The Bee finally falling asleep on me in the carrier, which led to a leg-burning, stay-still, have-to-pee-so-bad 1.5 hours on the couch back at the room. Oh yeah, and a new-parent rookie mistake with me having the room key in my pocket, Sarah running downstairs to get food, and me not able to get up when she knocked for fear of waking this tired child. We keep saying we’ll get this thing down, and we’re trying to give ourselves a break for the fact that our parental initiation comes with some foreign obstacles (quite literally).

And what would a 10th anniversary celebration be without an authentic Chinese dinner? Sound romantic? How about at 5pm with five other adoptive families and their toddlers in tow? Our agency’s fabulous guide had arranged a group dinner to celebrate our final night in province, and all joking aside… we had fun spending time with these good people, and learning more about what a “real” Chinese meal consists of. Our guide had pre-ordered, so we spun the lazy Susan around when it came our turn, and tried about as much as these two gluten-free, diary-free, semi-vegetarians could handle. Halfway into gnawing on a meatball of some sort, we noticed that the water tank of live seafood by the window had a turtle or two floating around. Maybe there was something to this tortoise thing after all. But we stuck mostly to rice and steamed egg. Sorry to disappoint.

Friday we leave this fine city, en route to Guangzhou… China’s third largest city, our final stop (for six nights), and home to the U.S. Consulate where we finalize the adoption. Can’t believe we’re already halfway through this adventure, which also means halfway to home.

The lotus is doing so well, Sarah is back to whole, and even though we’re already itching to get back to the comforts of Nashville… we’re continuing to count the blessings of how well this child is adjusting so far. For all those who have prayed for this first week in China, the results of your love can be seen below. See… told ya it was a decent gift this year.

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"I am a lotus flower – delicate, fragile, yet strong... floating, unfolding, and blossoming into the life where I belong.”