May and I got back from our two-week trip to China a few weeks ago, and I've been busy sorting through photos while jumping back into work and the rest of the routine.
It was a wonderful trip. Not relaxing, like a trip to Hawaii, or fun, like a trip to Disneyland; it was an adventure, and meaningful to both of us.
Originally we had planned for the whole family to go, but for one reason or another it didn't work out, so we agreed I would take May, who hadn't made a return visit to her homeland. That turned out to be a great decision. It was a lovely chance for my middle child to have me all to herself, and for her to be able to call the shots about where we'd go and what we'd eat without having to negotiate with her elder sister and younger sister. And, of course, I loved having her all to myself, without the distractions of school and work. My quiet girl and I had serious talks and giggled over private jokes like a couple of schoolgirls.
We went to Beijing, which May loved (she said she could see herself living there), Xi'an, Chengdu, Nanchang, and Shanghai. The social welfare institute took us out to lunch, put up a welcome banner for May, and let us look at (but not remove) her file. Separately, we met with her foster family and walked around her old neighborhood. It was good for her to confirm some memories and correct others that were not as clear. Some people consider teenagers too old for homeland tours, but I think we went at exactly the right time for her.
Although seein g the Great Wall and Forbidden City was important culturally, and the trip to May's home city was emotionally significant, the highlight of the trip -- and the part May was most excited about -- was still probably the visit to the panda breeding center in Chengdu. It was amazing to see dozens of pandas, of all ages, in one place, roaming around their pleasant green compounds. But best of all was being able to hold a baby panda. This was crazy expensive, but they've added some little extras to make it seem more worthwhile; you get a certificate commemorating your donation, an educational film on DVD, and a hooded sweatshirt with a panda logo on it.
And you get to sit for a minute wearing a surgical gown and plastic gloves holding a chubby, soft six-month-old panda on your lap. They give the panda a stick of bamboo dipped in honey to lick, and he sits placidly for some time, not paying much attention to the people or cameras, until the honey runs out.
I smelled my panda's head. He smelled of animal fur and grass. May was in heaven, hugging her panda and looking at him with adoring eyes; it was a dream come true for her.
I hope she never forgets that feeling.