Location: Taiyuan

Our stay in our fancy hotel in Datong was cut short by our 6 am wake up call. With the Hanging Monastery as our destination, we packed back into our big bus, which had turned into our second home on wheels by that time. Unfortunately, there had been a landslide recently that made it unsafe to climb up into the monastery, but it was still breathtaking. The buildings are perched on the side of a cliff supported largely by a few long poles jammed into the rock. I thought that the buildings were neat, but that the looming mountainous landscape stole the show. It was rainy/smoggy but worth it. After a couple more hours of driving by miles and miles of green farmland, we arrived at the city of Taiyuan. We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch and then continued to the state-run orphanage. We were only allowed to look and go into the few rooms run by China Little Flower and were not permitted to bring in cameras, which is why you won’t find any pictures of it on this blog. I first went to the rooms where the older children/adults live. Their ages range from about 7-35 years old, and most have Cerebral Palsy or another mental disorder and will live there for the rest of their lives. We played with them and enjoyed an incredibly beautiful singing concert by one 15-year-old girl. Meeting the caregivers was one of the most inspiring moments of my life. One woman lives in each room with one or two of the kids 24/7 with only about two days off each month. Their patience and kindness have made each of the true heroes in my eyes. After meeting all of the older residents, I spent about an hour in the baby rooms which were similar to the China Little Flower baby home. It was here that I realized how much I’m going to miss holding babies after leaving.

Once we re-assumed our seats on the bus, our experiences in the orphanage started to sink in. I know that I went through a roller coaster of emotions that ranged from happiness and inspiration to fear and sadness. By the time we got back into the heart of the city, the rain was still refusing to quit. The flooding caused horrible traffic, so we all got off the bus, half in shorts and t-shirts without any umbrellas, and walked the final mile to the restaurant. We were greeted by a colorfully costumed folk-song concert and noodle-making acrobatics performance. This included cutting the noodles while on a unicycle and transforming a solid rope of dough into 1,600 little noodles that could fit through the eye of a needle. I finally got some tofu for the first time on the trip (which was delicious), and Thomas wolfed down four bowls of handmade noodles. Afterward, we went to our new hotel, and I crashed from the best kind of exhaustion.

The next day we ate a typical Chinese breakfast at the hotel of steamed bread, rice, noodles, cabbage, and soup. After an hour-long bus drive, we arrived at a small village called Dong Er Gou where we saw an abandoned orphanage that many of the group home kids in Beijing used to live in. It was run by Catholic nuns until 2005 when China Little Flower took the children in. We hiked up the top of a hill where a Catholic church was built after a supposed local spotting of an apparition of the Virgin Mary that converted the entire village. The view of the countryside and mountains was incredible and provided a perfect picture taking the site. We played with a group of local children, hiked back down to the village where we had a great lunch, and admired the farm animals and puppies. The next five or six hours consisted of chatting, journaling, napping, and singing. By the time we got back to our apartment in Beijing, it was already dark, and everyone was hungry and tired. A dinner of pizza and Oreos provided the perfect ending to the day and satisfaction of our Western-food cravings. Oliver officially won the award for most adventurous eater after he chowed down on a packaged chicken foot he bought from a rest stop. It made several people, including me, run from the room when he offered us the fingers that still had the nails intact. Emily was the only other to try a bite. The trip, in general, was unbelievably interesting, rewarding, and sad since it marks the countdown to the end of our time in China.