Our Visit to the Gao'an Orphanage
Photos of Gao'an Children at the bottom of the page.
April 20th, 2001
By Liz Haltrup, Copenhagen, Denmark
Mother of Maj Elise (Gao Kun, adopted Nov 1. 1998)
From the outset, we didn't know whether the visit to my daughter's orphanage in Gao An would materialize. I had made a request through my adoption agency, and at first it sounded as if we were very welcome to visit the orphanage. When the travel date approached and I wanted to get some more details about the trip, it was impossible to get in touch with the agency's representative who was away with a group of adoptive families. But her husband contacted me and told me that there was a great deal of reluctance to let us visit the orphanage as it is situated in what the Chinese call a "restricted zone" (places that are not shown to tourists). And since my daughter had been in a foster family most of the time, the orphanage didn't think we would find it too interesting anyway. So we shouldn't expect too much of that visit. At this point I said that we would be happy to visit the foster family instead of the orphanage. My daughter had been very attached to her foster mother. This was about four days prior to leaving for China!
Upon arrival in China on April 17, I was told that arrangements and travel plans for a visit had been made. According to the fax from the official travel service in Jiangxi, we would be doing a short tour at the orphanage, but under no circumstances would we be allowed to visit the foster family. And I was told that picture taking and video filming would not be permitted.
Well, better than nothing, so we (my brother, my almost 4-year old daughter Maj and I) left for Nanchang on April 19, booked into familiar surroundings at Hotel Gloria Plaza (sharing meals with 4-5 new American adoptive families). Brand new airport at Nanchang, by the way, but otherwise not much change since 1998, and according to our guide LiLi, the whole province was poor and lacked development. The rest of that very hot day we spent doing a bit of sightseeing with LiLi and the driver in "our" car.
From the outset LiLi stressed that the orphanage visit would be a very short one. We would spend app. two hours going there, one hour at most at the orphanage, and expect to be back at the hotel in Nanchang for a late lunch. Well, no reasons to get my expectations too high!
Pleasant city despite the rain
Opposite the first day, the second day in Nanchang was very cold, extremely windy and WET! It was pouring down and never seemed to stop. Perhaps this is why my impressions from the app. 70 km drive to GaoAn are rather miserable: Lots of house-ruins and half-finished, vacant apartment buildings. Poor, rather miskept villages, farmers working in the rice fields with one ox and one wooden plough. I didn't even see many people. But I kept wondering whether it was in one of those villages my daughter had been found.
Driving into GaoAn city gave some quite different impressions: A pleasant town with lots of trees along the streets and a busy life. Lots of yellow, three-wheeled taxis (probably only for 2-3 people) all over. The driver wasn't able to find the orphanage right away and stopped to ask for directions. The man asked proved to be the (former??) vice director of the orphanage, who had been present at the handing over of my daughter! I am not sure he recognized me, but he seemed to remember my daughter. What a weird coincidence!
Orphanage at the city's end
To get to the orphanage we had to drive to the very end of the city at some rather steep dusty roads. The location reminded me of the old days' "poor people's homes" that used to be hidden way outside of the main town.
However, at some point I had a flash thought that I didn't mind it rained because there would probably be a nice pavement to step out into, when leaving the car. I don't know how such a thought could even find its way into my mind.
We basically stepped right into a pothole in a muddy backyard and was received at the orphanage gate by lots of very curious looking - and smiling - women. and we were welcomed by the new director, Mr. Wang and the vice director whose name I didn't catch.
It took me a while at this point to recognize any of what I remembered from the pictures once taken by the staff at the institution. Firstly it seemed a lot smaller than I had imagined. The yard seemed extremely small, and the buildings were far from that shiny white I had imagined. The rain has a lot of the blame for these rather poor first impressions, I'm sure.
Pictures of the children
We were led into the visiting room, furnished with heavy wooden chairs and served a glass of water. Right away I noticed a board on the wall with perhaps 20-30 photos of some of the children that had been adopted by foreign families. I immediately found the one of Maj, lying happily smiling in her bed one of her fist nights in Denmark. Right away one of the staff went to pick up the rest of the pictures I had been sending, showing me that they definitely keep track of "their" children (of course only to the extend the adoptive families keep them updated!).
Suddenly, my daughter's foster mother stepped in to the room. (People kept walking in and out of the room to look at us - curious, and very smiling women!) I recognized her immediately, her warm big smile and dark complexion! And she recognized us, said that my daughter looked the same just bigger and immediately wanted to hug Maj, who on her side wasn't willing to let this strange woman get so close to her. As I understood from the following conversation, Wu Ming Xiou, as the foster mother's name is, and her family was staying temporarily at the orphanage, as something had to be repaired at their own home. So there we were, getting both the orphanage and the foster family.
At this point I decided to hand over the presents: Two big boxes of Lego/Duplo bricks, small toys for the babies' beds from another Danish GaoAn-family. I also brought some souvenirs from Denmark, but the biggest success was some small albums with pictures of us and our family for the orphanage and the foster mother. The photos were immediately circulated among all the giggling women. Pictures are and absolute "must", if you ever consider gifts for Chinese orphanages and staff. Never mind they don't know anyone at the photos, but they just love to look at everything from this strange, different (and rich) world. I also passed a list with greetings from the GaoAn families who had contacted med prior to the trip. Unfortunately the parcels didn't reach me, but they have been shipped off by mail..
My daughter's file
During the conversation we were told that the orphanage housed 70 children and had 50 children in foster care. They said that they would move in to a new and bigger building next year! (Adoptive parents visiting other orphanages have heard the same story, so who knows). When I asked about details regarding my daughters birth date, the vice director straight away went to the office to pick up her file, and I was told that she was not found with any note, so her birth date was estimated to be the day prior to the day she was found. She was found at the outskirts of GaoAn, in a suburb in front of a shopping center, and the guy who found her had written a whole page by hand giving the details about her finding. This is required according to the law. I guess this document is the only door leading back to the bio-parents, if they at some point they decide to inquire about their baby! After the visit to the orphanage, the director took us to see the place where Maj was found. Quite a busy street corner, so I expect she had been found right away.
Visiting the fosterfamily
We were allowed to take pictures of the foster mom and her 13-year old daughter at the visiting room, and then the director asked if we would like to see her apartment - I guess by invitation from her. She, her husband and their daughter and two foster children lived two stories up in what seemed to be a two-room apartment. We only made it to the kitchen, where we met the husband and the two foster children (cuties of 8 and 11 months, I think). I saw the bed that has probably been used for my daughter and her foster-sister as well. This visit was too short, I think. If we had been allowed some more time with this warm and smiling family I think we would have made a fantastic contact. It was OK to take pictures of the foster family and their foster children.
We didn't see many children around the orphanage, except a few preschoolers who seemed to follow our every step. We didn't see any of the children's rooms, but did look in to one room that was basically unfurnished except for a chair seating a younger man, who we were told was retarded and had spent his whole life at an orphanage.
When we got ready to leave the orphanage, a large group of foster parents carrying small infants were suddenly appearing. They were taking the babies in for their vaccinations, which took place in the director's small office. I got permission to take pictures of these foster parents and the babies, all wrapped in several layers of clothes and rags. Strong and smiling adult faces - sleepy or curious baby faces! The babies were from four weeks to 11 months old. I was asked why I couldn't adopt one of them, since I was in China to adopt my second baby! I definitely felt like grabbing the whole lot, but knowing that I would meet my beautiful new daughter the next evening in the neighboring province of Fujian, I can only hope that all these beautiful babies get loving families somewhere in the world soon. Perhaps some of them already have.
I certainly hope more families will take the opportunity to go and visit GaoAn Orphanage. I'm certain you'll be well received, and despite the poverty and poor conditions, my impression is that they really care for the children there.