China, day 17: A visit with children and the end of the trip

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When we left the United States, we brought an extra suitcase with us. The suitcase was part of a mission we promised to complete while we were in China.

Part of the lobby of the Fairmont Peace Hotel

Part of the lobby of the Fairmont Peace Hotel

Before that, a word about our hotel. All the hotels where we stayed in China were five-star and probably nicer than hotels we would have gone to if we had arranged the trip on our own. But our Shanghai Hotel was even more, a tourist destination in and of itself. Now called the Fairmont Peace Hotel, it was built in 1929 as the Cathay Hotel by Victor Sassoon, a wealthy British businessman who owned much of Shanghai. The Cathay, Shanghai’s elite hotel in the 1930s, was renamed the Peace Hotel by Mao’s government in 1959. It was refurbished and reopened by Fairmont in 2010 and retains much of its art deco charm.

One of four reliefs on the hotel lobby walls

One of four reliefs on the hotel lobby walls

Many of our group went with Matthew today to ride the Maglev Train and see some more Shanghai sights, but we skipped that. We did take a walk down Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s iconic street that runs in front of the total. It’s quite a busy shopping street and was extremely crowded.

Then we grabbed our extra suitcase and set out on our mission. The hotel concierge got us a taxi, and Matthew had written out the address in Chinese. It was about a half-hour trip farther out into Puxi, near the old Shanghai airport.

Our destination was a house in a development called Long Beach Garden Villa. It is the home of Shining Star, a residence for blind and partially sighted orphans. It is connected to another charity called One Less Orphan or the Children’s Garden that was started by a woman named Naomi Kerwin, who is an old schoolmate of our friend Kristin Goss.

The Nanjing Road, awash with shoppers

The Nanjing Road, awash with shoppers

Naomi was in Australia for a wedding, so we met with Julie Garratt, who runs Shining Star. Julie hails from Great Britain and came to China as a trailing spouse with her husband, an automotive engineer. To her we delivered the items we had brought, as requested by Naomi: disposal diapers for infants, powdered baby formula, child-sized collapsible white canes, extra tips for the canes, and raffle tickets. (Gambling is illegal in China, so raffle tickets are not to be had.)

The baby formula aroused the curiosity of a customs official in Vancouver when we were flying over. “Where’s the baby?” he asked. Replied Robin: “In China.” I wondered if we would be questioned when we went through Chinese customs, but no one was even at the customs desks in Beijing, so we just walked through.

We got to meet the children and discovered that they spoke very good English. One six-year-old girl boldly asked us our names but declined to provide her own. She was the only girl, but she seemed to be in charge, ordering the little boys about. When I told 10-year-old Thomas his English was excellent, he said, “Of course it is. I’m going live in England soon.” Shining Star places its children in adoptive homes, mostly abroad. The precocious six-year-old was headed for America. Tom, who was born without eyes, had outgrown his old cane and was excited that we had brought him a new one.

We arrived just as the children were waking up from their afternoon naps. One little boy, called Cho-Cho, woke up crying, and Robin held him for a long time until he became calm. In addition to being blind as the result of an eye infection that went untreated, he has muscular dystrophy, which makes his prospects for adoption dim.

At the end of our visit, Julie arranged for an Uber car to take us back to our hotel. The car was much newer and nicer than the taxi that had brought us, and the driver, unlike the taxi driver, spoke English. He worked as a financial consultant for automotive companies, which is how he could afford to have a car in Shanghai. He was very interested in One Less Orphan and said he would tell his friends about it.

Back at the hotel, we asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation and he sent us to a place just down the Bund. As we walked to the restaurant, the streets were lined with soldiers, the largest military presence we had seen since Tibet. I wondered if there was some visiting dignitary but later learned that the troops were there for crowd control, it being the eve of Mayday. Last New Year’s Eve, 36 people died when a crowd on the Bund stampeded, so now the government takes extra precautions.

The restaurant was called Hakkasan, which turned out to a branch of a London restaurant. We dined very well throughout our stay in China, but this might have been the best meal we had, including vegetarian dim sum, Sichuan sea bass, and Jasmine-tea-smoked chicken.

The following morning we flew home.

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