Saturday, May 19, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

There is so much to write. Where do we start. I guess with interesting things we saw on the drive to LYG maybe. First, the highway was almost empty of cars, but, very nice. I don't know how old it is but it looked to have been open for a week. Vegetation on either side of the road got more lush as we approached LYG, to the point where cedars and popular Chinese trees completely lined the road. Also, all the farmland, which was shallow ponds and rice fields, was beautiful. Often we would see roto-tiller style machines driving through the water or water buffalo being worked by the farmers. There were canals, rivers, and even cement aqueducts throughout the farmland and often these canals would have boats that seemed way too big for their surroundings. The drive was beautiful and fascinating.

As we approached the city of LYG it became more urban but still prettier than Nanjing, the city from where we came. This city is about the size of Columbia, South Carolina, about 600,000 people and is friendlier than more colorful than our last location. It is just a more comfortable place to be.

We met our guide, Allen, at a predetermined spot that the driver and him had arranged. Heidi asked Allen about staying at a hotel near the water that she had read about, but Allen said it was better to stay in the center of the city. We checked into the hotel, called the Silver City International Hotel, AKA the Haze Motel. We realize we are not in Paris and try not to be too picky, but our first night was not a great experience. We asked for a non-smoking room but the whole hotel very much smelled like smoke. You could actually see it in the halls and lobby. We checked in after much discussion through Allen (the International Hotel had no one that spoke English) about bed size, internet access, smoking, breakfast, etc and we went to our room. It was actually kind of pretty and unique—hardwood floors and glass faced cabinets, and a great view of construction scaffolding, but the internet would not work. They told us to move to another room on another floor and off we went. The view of the corrogated metal roof was slightly better, but, of course the internet didn't work in the new room either. They sent the “Geek Squad” up to see us. The “Geek Squad” tech showed up smoking a cigarette and figured out the hotel-supplied cable was bad, gave us his cable and went on his way after exhaling an entire cigarette into our room. We decided we could survive and went off to find dinner.

On the way down the street we found a great series of paths off of the main road that comprised a large market. It was like the largest Dollar-Tree your mind could imagine all under the cover of faded PVC tarps. We found a nice lady who would play charades with us and help us buy candy for the orphanage kids. We needed 300 pieces and with a starting price of about 50 cents each we had some negotiating to do. We figured out that we could buy some candy by the kilogram and worked out a deal. Peng was a lot of fun in this market area. He is really becoming comfortable with us and very willing to point out the things that he wants, which are very, very numerous. Peng came out of the market with a few jello candies and a new wrist watch that is this huge super-hero looking plastic thing with a hinged door over the time display. It was about $1.10 and we figured afterwards that we should have bought several of them since they would probably last about 36 hours each. We bought a few other things and went to McDonald's for dinner.

We went back to the haze-motel and were tired and went to sleep on the box spring. In the morning after the toilet backed up and the shower wouldn't drain we packed up our bags in hopes of better options. We left our bags in the room and went downstairs where Allen told us to to go to get the breakfast that was included with the room. Apparently we had missed it as there was no one there. Allen arrived 15 minutes later and asked us how breakfast was. He inquired and we found out we were not on the right floor for the buffet and off we went through the haze-filled halls to breakfast, after which we took our bags, checked out and headed out to the waiting car. Bye-bye Silver Star International Hotel.

The day got much better from there. We first went to the orphanage where we met the woman who is the director. The man that was introduced as the director in Nanjing was there as well but apparently he had been demoted in the last two days or some other language barrier issue. Peng went running off to see people and places and we tried to keep up with cameras and video recorders whirling. Most of the children were at the nearby school but there were perhaps 30 children in a preschool classroom and in a room of children with various disabilities. Peng was really good with both of these groups of kids—very patient and loving. He was totally comfortable in this orphanage environment and it was fun to see him so relaxed. We got to ask the director a lot of questions as we walked around.

Back outside we met Peng's foster father of the past three years, who works at he orphanage. He seemed very nice, humble and down to earth guy. We could tell that he was sad and happy for Peng at the same time. He reminded David a bit of his father—a simple, practical man. We interviewed him for a few minutes and he recommended that we be strict with Peng when we asked what advise he had. He said Peng has a lot of potential if he is kept under control. I think we can see the potential part is true already.

Our next stop was the orphanage director's office where she gave us fresh fruit and tea. We were able to look at Peng's official document file, and saw a few papers that we had not seen before concerning where and how he was found. We got copies of all of these documents. Just before we left, Peng's foster brother (that we never had heard of before) came into the office in tears. Peng seemed a bit detached from the trauma of leaving the orphanage in general and especially with this boy. With some prodding they hugged, we said our thank-yous and good-byes and left with at feeling of finality in our hearts.

From the orphanage we went to the bridge where Peng was found. This bridge is not over water as we expected but actually an underpass under a train track where he was discovered. The underpass is just a few buildings away from a police station and it seems obvious that the person who left him intended for him to quickly end up there. We asked at the police station if it was possible to see the police record of this incident (not surprisingly, it isn't) and asked merchants near of the bridge if they remember him being found (not surprisingly, they don't). We checked at a supermarket to where the woman who found him used to work to see if she was still employed there (not surprisingly, she isn't) Of course, at the bridge, once again the cameras whirled.

We left the bridge area and went to the school where Peng attended classes. After the orphanage experience we thought he would enjoy this as well, but instead he hid below the seat of the van so he couldn't be seen by the kids in the courtyard. He refused to get out of the van and explained through the translator that he didn't want to see some kids—the bullies. School was on lunch break but eventually a few of the kids figured out he was in the van and a crowd gathered. He ended up speaking with some of the kids and proudly showed off his calculator that has been attached to his belt since the first hour we were together. One boy, identified as his best friend, got in the van with Peng and they talked for a minute. In the end he seemed happy to have been there.

We grabbed some lunch and went back by the school after their lunch break was over. Heidi went in with Allen and got to talk to the principal and Peng's teacher. She said he was a good student and was usually quiet until he really got to know someone. We had previously been told we would not be allowed to video at the school but we were thrilled that this was allowed when Heidi went back in. Overall we were really pleased that were able to see and document as much of Peng's life in LYG as we did.

Following this adventure we headed toward our new hotel near the water. This area is somewhat outside the city and is very new and beautiful. Our hotel is more than we expected—clean, friendly, and with a great view of the Yellow Sea from our window (for the same $50/night we paid for smog). The hotel is a huge expanse of a half-a-dozen restaurants, shops, and entertainment. Our only “complaint” is trying to find our room—number 470. There are signs saying 453-489 down one hall but it is not there. Down a different hall labeled 429-490 there is another sign saying 425-439 which is where you actually have to go. Finally take the wing with the 445-467 sign and there it is, next to last room on the left—room 470. Of course Peng now knows how to find the room, but directionally-challenged Heidi is still trying to figure out where to get a hotel GPS! We got settled in and went to the “Western Restaurant” for a very good dinner of assorted pasta dishes. Peng again tried to order three sugar-filled drinks, dessert and no main course. We compromised on two drinks and a rice dish. He is starting to talk to people more so we have to be careful that he doesn't tell the waitress what he wants without our approval—we have no idea what he is telling them.

After dinner we had a family ping-pong session. Peng was grinnin' like a mule eatin' briars. In typical boy fashion, he would smash the ball as hard as he could across the room and laugh uncontrollably. You would think ping-pong would be fairly subdued but Peng managed to briefly get a ball into the small recessed lighting cove, and tear a 10 inch hole in his day-old pants.

Peng seemed to make a lot of progress with us today. He has learned to take pictures with Heidi's cameras which he thinks is just great. He shot hundreds of pictures of anything from his foot to 50 or so shots of the TV show he was watching