Dirk Mullenger

Casey’s Story (part 3)

     Finally, the long, long flight to China.

    We asked our doctor for sleeping pills, he prescribed some ‘anxiety relief’ drug which helped very little—I was anxious about not sleeping! For most of the flight I sat slumped, staring at TV re-runs, mulling the hours away. We connected in Tokyo, then on to Beijing.

    Our travel agenda, mandated by the Chinese government, was tour Beijing for the weekend [aka spend tourist dollars], acclimate to time zone, then on to Guanzhou to pick up our child and spend seven days together at The Swan Hotel before return flight to US.

    We toured the Great Wall—huge, beautiful, impressive— then were guided into a tourist trap where unbelievably hard-core sales people pressured, twisted, and thoroughly manipulated us into purchasing a silk bed covering. We felt used and demeaned; yet once we got home, that silk bed covering turned out to be one of our all-time favorite household items! Cool in the summer, warm in the winter, we cuddled under that silk bedcover every night for 8 years and counting.

    Several shopping trips to crowded malls, mazes of fabric stores, products.The store clerks were like a human game of Pacman—they swarmed. Cheetahs on the prowl. Snag, guide, drag—in broken english, “Look here, this is good product, you buy now.” Courteous deflection was ineffective, pleasant declinations were ignored. We had two brutal options: icy-faced neglect, or cave and be manipulated.

    The Forbidden City was verboten. 

     (that was a joke) 

    Massive architecture, grand scale, open courtyards. But my favorite part was at the end of the tour, walking out the gate onto roof-steepled walkways where neighborhood folks loitered for their Sunday leisures. Old people playing well-worn Chinese board game Mahjong, smoking cigarettes. A choir huddled on a small section of the walkway, a group of neighbors who hooked up to sing traditional chinese songs. They were joyful, captivating, and good! I walked right into their midst, as if I were one of the choir, soaked and rejoiced in their sounds. They seemed to enjoy my presence.

    We went to a spa and got an awesome massage.

    We left Beijing early Monday morning and flew to Guanzhou in south China. Shuttle to our hotel—the drive was profoundly distressing. Under rainy skies, poverty and city squalor. On an elevated freeway we drove past old, tired, brown & gray apartment buildings. One building—who knows what happened, but six stories up, like a sectional cut-away of a doll house, parts of the outer WALL were missing! We had a literal view into their apartment, adults sitting on their chairs reading newspaper, kids on the floor playing games, 12 feet away from an open-air death-drop. No playing fetch with fido.

    WE crossed over a short bridge, onto the island where the White Swan hotel stood, and suddenly the neighborhood looked like 19thcentury Europe, like buildings in Paris.

    The White Swan hotel was western luxury, purportedly one of the finest hotels in China, particularly well-suited for westerners. President Ford had stayed there, and they still boasted of his visit with photos honoring his stay.

    When do we get the child? We’d been told the process varied each trip, but essentially what to expect was stork-like delivery to the hotel. A knock on the door, open it up—handed the child with a smile and good-bye nod, and bingo you’re a parent! When do they deliver? Who knows.

    We had asked if we could pick the child up at the orphanage, the answer had been an emphatic no. Yet when we arrived at the hotel, the staff asked us why hadn’t we wanted to pick the child up at the orphanage? 

    “We did want to do that but we were told no!”

    “Oh really? Sorry…that opportunity is no longer available—your child is en route now, we will  be leaving the hotel this afternoon at 2:00pm to pick them up at the administrative building.”

    “Today!? This afternoon!?” Gulp!

    Nerves set in. Susie freaked out and started trembling. And kept trembling. I’d never seen her this nervous. The moment was here and she panicked.

“I want some potato chips and I want one of those anxiety pills—no, make it two,” she said.

    I asked the concierge where we could get some potato chips. They said at the 7-Eleven.

“7-Eleven? Here in China?”

        “Oh yes. It is quite popular.”

    Susie was a trembling mess. We walked to 7-Eleven, and whadda ya know,  good ol’ Lays Potato Chips, —but wait: they smelled funky, like sardines or formaldehyde. Tossed the chips.

Susie still trembling, we walked back to the hotel.

    By the time we got onto the 2:00pm shuttle to go pick up the child, the pills had kicked in, she had calmed down, she was herself—she was more than herself. Miss Cheerful USA, chatting away as we drove, she pointed and monologued,  “Oh Wow, look at that! Interesting!—hmm, what’s that over there?” At one point she asked the driver if, on our way back to the hotel after picking up the child, we could “stop for a little shopping.”

    “Wow,” he said in broken English, “I never see anyone as calm as you on way to get child. You are one cool customer!”

    Finally to the pick-up spot, a government building. Linoleum floors. Officials. Passes and badges. Small clunky elevator up seven flights, into a waiting area, seated on a brown leatherette sofa—us and another couple on the other side of the room to pick up their child.

    The moment: We’re told, “Here he comes…”

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