We are still struggling to recover from this first week in China which was incredible and very very intense.
A few hours before our departure, on August 8, our Chinese contact in Beijing writes us (on WeChat, the Chinese messenger / Facebook) to tell us that several couples or LGBT families wish to welcome us to Shanghai and Suzhou, the first two cities we were planning to visit.
All of this is so precipitous that we answer that we will be able to see them only the day after our arrival, in order to get settled. We fly with excitement without being able to imagine what was awaiting us!
After a stopover in Helsinki and a 9hours flight, we land on a Wednesday morning in Shanghai.
We reach our hostel not without a little delay due to our misunderstanding of the subway itinerary …After a long nap, we go to discover the pedestrian street “Nanjing road” and the Bund: the promenade from where you can admire the most beautiful buildings (historical buildings of European styles and buildings of the business district incredibly illuminated).
The day after our arrival, we take the subway to the Yuyan Garden. We got lost in the neighborhood and stay for a long time in the narrow streets. We admire the fake copies of toys and in particular the different boxes of lego … We do not visit the garden because we arrive too late. We have an appointment so we rush back to the hostel.
In the late afternoon, we meet Luqi (pronounced Loutsi) and her companion Zhangying who come to pick us up at the hostel in a huge Mercedes SUV. It takes us almost 2h of traffic to reach the suburb where they both live.
Before returning to the apartment, we stop in a very modern mall. They want us to taste a Chinese specialty: Hot pot.
On the table, there is a large pot with two types of broth: a spicy side and a side that looks rather milky. Waiters arrive with about fifteen dishes. There are different types of meats, fish, vegetables, soya in any form. Natacha tastes: frog legs, beef’s tongue and many strange vegetables.
Sara eats everything but does not use spicy sauce. Sacha likes a kind of cake of ham and he eats white fish. He is busy discovering the use of a joystick plugged into the iPhone of our host who lent him a shooting game! We are doing rather well with the chopsticks.
After dinner, in the middle of the mall (and at 9pm), we stop in a giant playground for children. Sacha, Zhangying and Sara have fun. Sacha is like a little crazy and loses a tooth amongst the balls of the giant ball pool! After a few minutes of searching, the tooth is miraculously recovered.
We then arrive at our hostesses who live in a tower located in a residence (lots of tall buildings with guarded entrance with barrier). We will discover that this king of residence can be for luxurious condos but also for more popular apartment (not mixed of course).
Sacha has a lot of fun with their cat DaoDao (pronounced TaoTao) and we discuss about their work, the cost of living in Shanghai and their wish to have a child.
They offered us to sleep in their room. So the 3 of us sleep in the same bed, a king size bed. The bed was big enough but covered with a bamboo mat, so Natacha felt like she was on an ice rink all night!
The next day, breakfast is prepared with great attention. We understand how Luqi and Zhangying want us to discover Chinese food. They show us fruit, noodles (cooked with vegetables and ginger) and omelette with mushrooms (these mushrooms are only harvested in August in the mountains in altitude, it is very special). Sara likes the noodles and the “Dragon Fruit” very much.
After a long discussion with a delicately prepared tea, we leave he apartment to visit the old town of Zhujiajiao. No buildings here, rather old houses by the water and many merchants of crafts or trinkets of any kind. Sacha makes all the toy shops (and there are a lot !!) It is a very touristy town where you can find something to eat everywhere. It is here that Sara discovers that the root of Lotus can be eaten. Luqy then buys some for us to taste in the evening! It is very hot and it is nice to have a tea break in an air-conditioned lounge. It is intriguing to note that tea is an expensive drink in China.
In the evening, we have an appointment with Ann and Yann who have organized a dinner with LGBT families and couples of women who want a child.
Once again, we receive a very warm welcome. We are really touched that these people gather on purpose to meet us. They want to greet us and offered us many gifts. We are a little embarrassed.
Yann and Ann cooked many dishes, including jellyfish salad with pork ears. Sara wants to taste but she can only have one mouthful because it is quite spicy. She can’t eat also the scallops with rice vermicelli and crispy chicken (you could almost think it was nuggets). Anyway, there are other things to test like the pie in soy crust! Sacha is entitled to a bowl of rice (not quite white) because he does not eat anything else.
The atmosphere is very good, we shares our story, listen to other couples talking about how they got their child, we laugh a lot. Sometimes we do not understand anything because they speak in Chinese.
In the evening we stay sleeping at Ann and Yann’s, this time we will be three in a small
convertible couch. We will ask later if the Chinese are sleeping with their children and the answer is yes, of course😊. After a good night’s sleep (Sacha has slept until 10am), we enjoy a new breakfast with Chinese flavors. Meanwhile, the WeChat group “love makes a family” crackles messages and photos. It was created especially for our coming and the organization around our reception! Then, we do an interview of this couple who hopes to have a child next year. They also interview us as part of the meetings they organize in Shanghai.
After lunch at Pizza Hut, yes our stomach needed a little break, we headed to the station to catch a train to Suzhou. Unfortunately the trains are full and our departure is delayed. Luckily our new friends are here to help. They leave and we finf ourselves in the middle of a huge hall where there are boarding gates to access the platform. Sacha finds a buddy with whom to play and Sara tastes a yoghurt while Natacha leaves in search of a SIM card seller. She returned without a card because she refused the price asked far superior to the one she had spotted, it was dishonest. The journey by train passes very quickly because it lasts only 25 minutes. We find that the space between the seats is really bigger than in France because it is possible to slip a suitcase in front of your legs.
When we arrived in Suzhou, Lily came to pick us up. Lily is a university professor and has studied in the United States. She takes us to dinner to her mother’s place who has prepared local specialties. Once again, we are very touched by this warm welcome but we are a little embarrassed to arrive this late. We spend a little time with Lily’s twin sister and her 16-month-old son living at Lily’s mom (her husband works in California, after studying at Harvard,). Sacha loves to play with the “American style” game table with a train circuit.
Lily then takes us to her home in her Jeep. We cross a part of the city of Suzhou which is illuminated with thousands of lights, on the edge of highways, on bridges, on roads. Lily lives on the edge of a lake in a luxury residence on the 14th floor. Leaving the elevator, Lily opens a smoked glass door that slides and allows us to access a terrace with a breathtaking view. We then enter a huge and very beautiful apartment: 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a huge living room / dining room opening onto a western kitchen. Another door leads to another kitchen called “Chinese” and a laundry room. It is the most beautiful apartment we have ever been to.
While visiting the appartment, Lily tells us: “You can choose any bedromm you want, I leave you the apartment, I go to sleep with my father.” And here is how Lily, whom we met 2 hours before, lends us her sublime apartment for two nights. We are very surprised and honored with so much trust. We are also happy to be able to enjoy the comfort of this accommodation at our own pace since the previous days were so intense that we had little rest and quiet moments. The next day we have a lunch meeting with 3 families, each one exchanging about the way and place where the babies were « created ». During lunch we have to change restaurant because the kitchen had caught fire (just like Natacha’s stomach!).
In the afternoon, Jessie, her partner and their little daughter, DuoDuo, accompanied us to visit the Garden of the honorable governor. We take the metro and a bus, it is very nice to be guided and not to have eyes riveted on the names of the stations.
The garden is beautiful. It is a World Heritage Site. We cross the cobbled paths along many canals, waterways and small palaces (at least one for each season (to have the best view possible), one to listen to the Opera, one to welcome guests …). Our companions have insisted on offering us a guide because they do not know enough about the history of the place. The guide gives us information about the master of the places and the different dynasties corresponding to the times of construction but her accent is so pronounced that we have a great difficulty in understanding it. We stop laughing and in the end we nod our heads without really listening.
At the end of the day, we go to a cafe where we have to give a short lecture explaining our journey and our life as a rainbow family. More than twenty people came and the conference was broadcast live on WeChat (the local Facebook). We are very honored to be solicited for such an event. We are also surprised because there is a fee to pay to access the conference and they offered to donate us some of the money collected for the trip. We answered that , LESGO, the association that organizes this event really deserves to keep everything. The coordination and organization of members of the LGBT community in Suzhou is remarkable.
We speak and show some slides prepared very quickly in the morning. We have an interpreter, student in English. Natacha mastered the exercise and Sara tries not to talk too much!
A debate took place after our presentation and we understand a little better the difficulties faced by these LGBT families that are not recognized here. We will write a dedicated article on the subject. Several people came to thank us and said that our story was very inspiring. We also discuss with one of the participants who just spent 3 years in Seattle and who loves this city as much as we do!
Here is the end of our adventures in Suzhou. Lily can not accompany us to the station as planned because she is sick so we take a taxi. We do not ask for any help in ordering the taxi to avoid anyone offered to take us to the station and travel on purpose for that. We know their generosity and do not want to abuse it. Natacha is as always optimists and think we can find a taxi in the street. It is impressive because she has barely crossed the street and raises her hands that a taxi stops, she makes him understand in Chinese that we go to the train station and we want to know the price in advance. The driver then shows us the taximeter and drives us to the station.
Monday, August 14, we are ready to begin a new adventure. We take a little rest during the 5h30 of high-speed train in direction of Beijing. We already know that we will meet Rui, the one without whom all these encounters would not have taken place.
This article is a bit long but we were very moved by the kindness of all the people we met and who put their daily life on pause to spend time with us. Moreover everything is new and extra-ordinary for us so we would like to tell everything! Thank you for following us and giving meaning to these meetings, meetings where she shared, learned about each other and started new friendships.