It’s Friday and we follow the same routine. Back to the hospital for the second of three days of testing and exams. Getting Qiao Qiao up just before it’s time go. Walking, hand in hand, out through the big brass revolving doors. Waiting for the taxi with Anson, our guide from Holt. A bumpy, jolty seatbelt-less-ride through the city to the consulate and back again. Breakfast at the buffet, and this time Qiao Qiao carries her own plate and picks her own food. And I discover we just may have another carb lover in the family. 🙂
After breakfast and some down time, we head to a nearby shopping mall. It’s raining and we have heard the mall will have a good play place. We decide to take the Chinese subway. According to word of mouth directions, it’s only four stops away, with one line change. How hard can it be? Dumb question – this is China, and we don’t speak Chinese! Naomi is nervous and begs us to take a taxi but we insist on adventuring – this is how we learn, we tell them! We think we know the way but find less English than we expect once we are below ground in front of the token machines. We are not entirely sure of our route. Fortunately, after some time of studying the maps, a Good Samaritan, English speaking woman stops to help us. Turns out we were right all along.
The machine will only take small bills so we change ours then use the token-buying system which is more sophisticated than I expected. The touch screen lets you select your destination on the map, then figures out fare for you. We end up with one green token each, much like a Chuck E Cheese token, but electronically tagged. Waving the token in front of the gates opens them. We are in.
As usual when we are away from the room, Qiao Qiao holds my hand tightly. And it’s as we’re standing on the platform waiting for the train that I begin to really panic about losing her. This is a fear I feel every time I go out. One little Chinese girl who speaks no English and doesn’t even really know our names. If we lose her here in China, it will be almost impossible to find her. And this, this I can never ever let happen to her. This is why she holds my hand so tight. To have been lost once, separated from a family you never found again. This is a wound you never forget, a memory that lives in your cells. I feel it there, hovering around. A step away from consciousness.
In that moment, with stories of the famous Chinese subway “push” that has separated families before, I whip out a pen and scrawl our name and phone number big on Qiao Qiao’s arm, before her startled eyes. I add the country code to make sure they will know how to reach us and that we are American. Her eyes meet mine and we know, we both know, that a memory is shared. That her worst fear and mine have met in this moment. And that I am promising to do everything in my power to keep her safe. I promise you, baby girl. I will not let you go.
And we step into the train which swoops in at that moment, and there is standing room only but no “push” and a half hour later we walk into the China Plaza, a shopping mall eight stories high. It’s a few hours of exploration – no buying, but a whole lot of interested looking. Interesting English signs, white people’s pictures selling products that most white people might never buy. Stores full of knock off Toms. Stores with the strangest names, such as a fancy men’s clothing store titled “Teenie Weenie.” We walk out and mingle with a crowd looking for a taxi, with no luck. So, to Naomi’s dismay, it’s back down underground and into the subway where we are just at the beginning of rush hour and the famous “push” carries us forward.
It’s like that game of sardines I used to play in the cul de sac by the Nangles house. Except everyone I’m playing with is a Chinese stranger – and some of them are so fascinating. My favorite on the train is a young Chinese man holding a baby, he has a very sparse goatee and mustache and a wart on his cheek with about ten hairs, all about five inches long, growing lushly from it. David whispers in my ear that it must be proof of his virility – and we shake with laughter among the pressing bodies as Qiao Qiao’s face beams up from between us, sharing the joke, whatever it was.
Dinner is Cantonese food – heaps of vegetables, perfectly cooked and seasoned, along with some pork and beef and turnips. It’s incredibly delicious and I hope I can learn to cook this kind of Chinese food. There is no real sauce but the food is perfectly seasoned. We are served appetizers of pickled peanuts and radishes and they are amazing. All of us eat with chopsticks in the all-Chinese restaurant, while the sounds of Cantonese reverberate around us. Our view is a wall of aquariums, fish in the top half of the wall, crabs and crawfish at the bottom. Most of the wall is taken up with writhing heaps of live eels, hundred and hundreds of them. We double check our food before eating, for strange and unknown meats.
A woman has been stationed at our table, apparently to watch over us, the foreigners. She is clearly delighted by our family and tries to make friends with Qiao Qiao, who chooses not to engage. The woman watches our every move; the teasing between Naomi and Qiao Qiao, the affection between David and I, the play hitting between Quinn and his new little sister. I watch her taking it all in, learning about adoption as she goes, pointing to me, asking Qiao Qiao if I am her new Mama (I understand that much!!) It hits me how every single person we meet is getting touched in some way.
Back at the hotel and there are more cherished moments of family. Painting Qiao Qiao’s fingernails for the first time, and she is clearly excited by the idea. She has the little-old-lady hands that kids with hard lives in the developing world often do, and her hand in mine breaks my heart with it’s bittersweetness. We read more books together, her teaching me all the animal names in Mandarin. I am dreaming in Mandarin bits and pieces these days, struggling with the sounds in my sleep. It’s tiring! David teaches her to play war and she is a maniac with the cards, loving every moment of it. She is a mischief maker all day long, strategically cheating and laughing behind her hand at us as she does it. How she loves to laugh.
I think her love language must be touch, she takes every chance she can to hold my hand, interlacing our fingers, to cuddle up in bed, to jump on David’s back, to poke Quinn and run away laughing. I try to imagine growing up without a family’s touch, and I am so glad we are here now, with her. I help her bathe, help her with lotion, stroke her head in bed. These are days of so many firsts as we discover her scars, her freckles, the way her hair whorls. She held my hand today looking carefully at my “frankenfinger” (the one I caught in a hand held blender, requiring twenty-seven stitches to mend.) We have so few words to communicate, but we are studying each other, learning each other, catching each other’s hands and eyes – sparkling at each other with looks so much louder than words.
This is magic of a truly terrible kind – and I am bewitched. Bewitched by a Zhuang girl with laughing eyes and dirty teeth and a heart as big as the oceans. And I wish fervently that I may never get well.