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Virginia Family Helps Adopted Daughter Explore Her Roots

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Olivia Rose on the Great Wall, at Juyongguan Pass outside Beijing.
Christine Romboletti
Olivia Rose on the Great Wall, at Juyongguan Pass outside Beijing.

During the early 2000s, there was a wave of American parents adopting from China. More than 60,000 Chinese babies, mostly girls,  joined American families during that decade. Now, as those babies grow into pre-teens and teenagers, many are returning to China with their adoptive families, to learn about the country and culture in which they were born.

Metro Connection's Jacob Fenston sent an audio recorder along with one such family, and asked them to record their travels in China.

Christine Romboletti and her daughter Olivia Rose, at the site in Fuling where Olivia Rose was found abandoned ten years ago.
Christine Romboletti and her daughter Olivia Rose, at the site in Fuling where Olivia Rose was found abandoned ten years ago.

Rediscovering roots

Olivia Rose Romboletti has spent almost her entire life in Reston, Va. But ten years ago, she was an infant found abandoned in a shopping district in the mid-sized city of Fuling, in southwest China.

Around the same time, 8,000 miles away, Christine Romboletti was just beginning the international adoption process.

Now, nine years after Christine first flew to China to adopt Olivia Rose, the two have returned.

"Hi! Hi it's Olivia," begins the first recording from the trip. "Today it's Sunday, Nov. 24. We're in China, and today we're going to go to the summer palace and the great wall today. It's going to be a lot of fun."

They're hitting many of the sites on the tourist trail, but there's at least one spot on their itinerary that you won't find in any guidebook.

"We sort of know a general location," says Olivia Rose. "It's 21 Jung Fu Road."

That's the address of Olivia Rose's finding site where, according to Chinese adoption officials, she was discovered abandoned when she was just two days old.

"It's Tuesday, Nov. 26, and it's 5:09," begins an early morning recording. "And right now, if you hear any sound in the background, that's my mom packing up. We're getting ready to go to Fuling. We have to leave the hotel and check out by 6:30 a.m."

On a cold, rainy day, and Olivia Rose and her mom trudged through the hilly streets of Fuling.

"We were really worried that, although I had photographs and we had an exact address, we were very worried that we might not be able to find it," says Christine, who first visited the site in 2004, when she adopted Olivia Rose. "One of the shocks to my system, when we got to Fuling, was how many blocks had been completely leveled to be rebuilt. I mean, buildings, entire blocks were rubble, and being completely modernized. I felt like every minute counted until we got to that site, that we wouldn't find wrecking balls."

When they got to the street, it did not look familiar.

"The main thing that we were going to use to identify the location was this very distinctive tile pattern that was the sidewalk, and literally, right now in Fuling, all of that tile is being replaced by these big grey concrete blocks, and we thought, 'Oh no!'"

They worked their way up the street, asking the shopkeepers, through a translator, if anyone knew the location.

Everything on the street was different — repainted, or retiled or rebuilt. But finally, someone recognized a tiny detail in one of the photos.

A few key details helped Christine and Olivia Rose find the site, including these tiles above a dentist's office.
A few key details helped Christine and Olivia Rose find the site, including these tiles above a dentist's office.

"This air conditioning unit has been moved up," says Christine. "They left the brackets, so we could see that there had been a unit. And when you look up, they've moved the unit up higher now."

Olivia Rose wanted a memento from this spot. She doesn't know where she was born, or to whom, so this place is pretty much as close as she can get to the beginning of her story. She picked up a little piece of the sidewalk.

"It's a piece of the tile," she says, showing off the small orange triangular piece. "The tile was actually loose on the ground. We had to get it quickly before they would sweep it up into a trash bag and throw it all away."

A sisterhood of shared circumstances

Olivia Rose and her mom were traveling with a group of 12 other families like theirs — Chinese girls adopted by American parents.

The girls call each other "Fu-sisters" because they were all adopted from the same orphanage in Fuling.

"This is the language that we use to describe all these girls, is that they're all sisters, because they were all at the same place at the same time," says Christine. "Literally, a number of these girls were in the orphanage at the same time, because they're the same age."

Olivia Rose doesn't know anything about her birth family. Were they rich or poor? And why did they give her up? One likely reason is that her birth parents may have already had a son or daughter, and because of the one-child policy, they couldn't keep a second one. In other words, Olivia Rose may very well have a sister or brother somewhere in China.

Olivia Rose visiting the orphanage in Fuling.
Olivia Rose comforts a young girl at an orphanage in Fuling.

That fact sank in, whenever she saw kids about the same age, heading for school, or at home doing homework. One day during the trip, Christine says a group of eleven-year-old Chinese girls approached the group of Americans. They were curious about this gaggle of Chinese-looking kids with adults who were obviously foreigners.

"Our girls were trying to speak to them in a little bit of Mandarin, and English," says Christine. "It was really cool. At one point, my daughter said, 'Mom, they're us!'"

On their last day in Fuling, Christine and Olivia Rose took one last walk around the city.

"We walked around, and then eventually my mom asked me how I felt," says Olivia Rose, speaking into the recorder before going to bed that night. "I told my mom that I sort of feel like home here, even though I don't speak the language, or don't know the characters - like how we know our ABC's, they have a different alphabet, theirs are all characters. And I feel really good, and I sort of wish we could stay longer."

She says they're already planning another trip back in 2015.

"I sort of would like to go to the same places again, just see, as I'm older, I may understand things better than I did this trip."

In the meantime, she plans to keep in touch with her Fu-sisters, scattered around the United States, and maybe start taking Mandarin so all those characters make more sense next time.

[Music: "My Favorite Things" by Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra from A Very Ping Pong Christmas ]


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