Location: Beijing

One night’s sleep was not enough to recover from the overnight train baby bonanza. All 12 of us stumble down to our hotel breakfast buffet, but, with it being 7:30 a.m., our appetites have yet to awaken. After a groggy return trip to our rooms, we pack our packs. Prepared for checkout, the students and their sacks trickle into the lobby around 8:30 a.m. (the time we had planned to leave by, but hey, time is an illusion to the sleep-deprived mind). Loaded onto our good friend the tan-colored van, and invigorated by the melodious honks of unceasing Beijing street traffic, we speed off to the Chengguang Baby Home. At the Chengguang Baby Home, we file out of our vehicle into an enclosed courtyard, where playthings cover the ground and colorful kids’ characters grace the walls. But our task is not to play: it’s manual labor time. The baby home is relocating to a new property, and we are here as movers.

All that baby-lifting at Little Flower comes in handy as we spend the morning emptying shelves of their stuff and rooms of their shelves, moving everything out, out, and into a truck. Whether on the room-clearing crew or the shelf-wiping crew, each of us is hard at work and has the sweat stains to prove it. As the building gets emptier and the truck gets fuller, we drift into a playroom within the baby home to entertain children, much like the ones in Baotou, but this time with a new method: armed with a ukulele, we serenade the kids, who seem to enjoy our limited set list of English songs. We then head outside with the children and enjoy a meal, courtesy of the baby home, under the scorching noontime sun. With bowls cleared and stomachs full, we embrace the welcome air conditioning of our tan van as we head to our afternoon excursion in the Beijing 798 Art District. Our trip leaders then release us to the outskirts of the art district and relinquish their authority to tell us where to go. Our watches read 1:00 p.m. and meeting time is 5:00 p.m., so we rush in. There isn’t a moment to lose. Naturally, without guidance, we gravitate to the first American thing we see: a Starbucks. But, realizing that the Starbucks had little to offer by way of cultural immersion, we grab herbal/milk teas from an adjacent shop and jump back out onto the streets, where we wander for an eventful few hours. It’s 5:00 pm and the group reaches the rendezvous point with sore feet and cheap jewelry, signs of a successful afternoon. After a quick dinner at a nearby noodle place, we find ourselves back at the Beijing train station. We know the drill: passports, tickets, security, being-asked-to-drink-water-while-standing-on-a-box. Now accustomed to the overwhelming noise and aggressive train-going crowds, we move our way to the platform and into our train car. With no babies in hand, we quickly settle into our bunks. A few hours of conversing and card-playing leave us with no energy to spare. As the cabin lights flicker off, a much-needed peacefulness falls upon our 12 tired bodies.