It was the summer of 2007 and I stared out the window of a crowded bus taking me from Hefei to Tongling, China (P.R.C.). My life had started here in 1996 and then I was placed in the Tongling orphanage at three weeks old. My birth parents were unknown and this “Homeland Tour” was to bring me, and others like me, closer to our origins and hopefully answer some of our questions.
I watched the landscape roll by, noticing the mountains on the horizon growing closer and closer. Tongling means “Copper Mountain” and the Anhui province is noted for its copper and tin mining industries. When we reached the orphanage our busload of Chinese-American kids emptied out at its front gates. The air was sultry, reminding me of my home in San Antonio, Texas, and curiously, many of the shrubs and flowering bushes were identical to the ones there, as well. I saw crepe myrtle and purslane, along with along with periwinkle and lavender.
The orphanage was large, constructed of long, white, rambling one-story buildings nestled around one dark brown multi-storied administration office at its core. I could hear children’s voices mingling with those of adults on several playgrounds. Thankfully, there was nothing intimidating about the place and I set out to explore and learn about my beginnings. Our group set off to meet the orphanage director who took us to the infant and toddler areas first. The rooms were colorful, clean, well-lit, and surprisingly cool. Many government buildings in China have no air-conditioning or heating, but here, in each room, was a free-standing mobile cooling unit.
My aunt, who had traveled with my parents and me on this trip, was immediately drawn to one of the bright-eyed active toddlers. This child engaged Aunt Pat in a baby dance, tapping her feet and watching with glee as Pat copied her steps. I noticed that almost every child I saw was female, the result of China’s One-Child Policy and the Asian preference for boys. They were all clean and clothed, a little smaller than their American counterparts, but seemingly well-fed and cared for. The director then took us to the dormitories, the school, which was closed for the summer holidays, and the special needs facility. There I did see some boys, all with obvious birth defects or deformities. These youngsters were of special concern to the director, who said that donations were needed for toys, special equipment, and more “ayas”, nurses and caregivers.
That afternoon we were given a private interview with the orphanage director. He shared with us my placement file which contained the first pictures of me and the police report containing a sketchy description of my foundling place and a general health report. There were no notes or personal objects found with me when the police took me to the Tongling Welfare Institute. The director then offered to have a driver take me and my family to my “foundling spot”, and we readily agreed to go. The police report description gave only a geographical location and the phrase “by the side of the road”. I had no idea what we would find there. The area was just about fifteen minutes from the orphanage gates. A small store, about three years old, was set up only a few feet from my “foundling spot”. Raggedly dressed locals with their equally ragged children sat on the fire escapes of drab looming tenements. As I looked at them and at that shack/store, I understood “Why?”
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.