AMHERST, N.S. – Heather Laidlaw’s recent trip to China was about more than just another tourism excursion.
The Amherst woman took her daughters Hannah, 14, and Maya, seven, to visit the place of their birth.
“It was important to me to take the girls back to China to give them a real sense of China – to give them an opportunity to taste the food, be surrounded by the language, history and culture,” said Laidlaw. “It makes it more tangible and real for them – for all of us. That sense of place offers an important connection to the country of their birth.”
It was the second trip back to China for Hannah, who accompanied her mother when she adopted Maya. Both were adopted when eight months old. While adopting Maya, she met another woman going through the same process, who also had a daughter Hannah’s age. All six of them made the recent trip together.
They decided to book last August after coming across a seat sale, and began working with a travel company in China to build the trip they were looking for.
While in Beijing, they visited the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, which were the main sites for the 2008 Summer Olympics. They also visited the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the old Hutongs, the Temple of Heaven, and Summer Palace.
“The Great Wall was an obvious highlight for all of us,” said Laidlaw. “When the girls learned that it was built by hand, with labourers carrying the stones on their backs one by one, they were shocked. Many sections of the wall have been refurbished, but we learned that there are ‘wild’ sections as well that have not been maintained.”
In the Hutongs, a.k.a. “Old Peking,” the girls got to paint Beijing opera masks with a local family, and at the Temple of Heaven they found a park full of exercise equipment just like that found at Jerry’s Park in Amherst.
“The park was full of seniors who go there every day to exercise,” she said. “There were others sitting at tables, playing cards and other games. There was a real sense of community and it was clear that staying physically active is an important part of the culture.”
The family also visited Maya’s orphanage in Nanchang, and Hanna’s orphanage in Guangxi, considered a small city with its population of 1.5 million.
Their travels also took them to the Dujiangyan Panda Valley, the Sichuan Opera, and the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’An, as well as the Muslim Quarter, the Great Mosque, and an ancient city wall.
“Our expectations were high for this trip, bit it was actually far more than we imagined,” said Laidlaw. “In addition to the amazing places we visited, there were unanticipated touches that really enriched the experience. Things like calligraphy lessons, mask painting, and biking on top of the ancient city wall.”
She said her girls gained much from the experience, and that she was proud of how willing they were to try new things, and how committed they were to speak the language.
“I find the way we talk about China now is so different,” she said. “ We have real memories to look back on and we met so many wonderful people who have put a human face to things. The trip was life changing for my family.”