Home > Up Close

Unexpected Adventures

Today’s UP CLOSE post is from the trips and travels of Ellen Patton of Lexington, Mass. Late-night baking, antiquing and exploring New England are some of her loves.  She believes strongly in writing letters and mailing them with real stamps, spending time with friends, and enjoys photography. She adores her loft condo with 18 foot ceilings in a converted high school. During the day she works as an assistant to the President of MIT, and has word processing, photocard, and photography businesses on the side. Ellen has 3 brothers, 11 nieces and nephews, and a bus fleet of friends. She currently serves as RSP in the Arlington Ward. She is a daily blogger at
I had hoped, but never thought I’d be one of those people who traveled to exciting places in the world.  I grew up in Los Angeles, traveled the west coast and saw most of what there was to see in California.  I’ve been to all but seven states (driving from California to Boston added some in “the middle” that I probably never would have visited otherwise).  My mom took us to Mexico when we were kids and I went to Canada as a chaperone on a youth Temple trip.

I lucked out with two business trips to Europe while working for a start-up software company.  I had been responsible for running the office (making copies, phone calls, power point slides, etc.) in a window-less hotel room in Boston twice a year for our member meetings.  Then they asked me if I wanted to run the office–in Munich!  Two years later they asked about Brussels!  Both trips lasted two weeks with four days of work and exploring with coworkers and on my own.  I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get to Europe again so I took advantage and saw as much as I could.  From the Sound of Music tour to Neuschwanstein Castle, Hallstatt, Austria, driving on the autobahn, seeing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, buying lace in Bruges, riding trains, visiting friends in St. Die, France, seeing the Mona Lisa, eating croissants and wiener schnitzel, drinking soda from a beer mug at the Hofbrauhaus and visiting Olympic villages—both trips were great adventures!

In 1999 my friend Jennifer called and asked if I had always wanted to go to China.  In my dreams. She invited me to be her guest and travel with six other families for two weeks when they adopted baby girls from Nanning.  She invited me because she said I was (1) good in groups and (2) I wouldn’t tell her what to do with the baby.  We flew from Boston to Detroit (I crossed Michigan off my list of states I hadn’t been to!) to Beijing.  The Detroit to Beijing leg of the trip was 13 ½ hours.   I can’t even remember how many meals and snacks we had on that long, long flight.

China was fascinating– the Great Wall, Beijing, Nanning, Guilin, the Li River, Guangzhou and Hong Kong; and being there when the seven families met their new daughters.  It was a trip filled with emotion, energy, and excitement.  It was memorable being there when the elevator door opened and three orphanage workers, each holding a baby girl, handed them to three of the families.  We toured the Mother’s Love Orphanage in Nanning.  One orphanage worker was feeding two babies in her arms and rocking two more with her feet.  I enjoyed meeting the loving couple who ran the orphanage.  We were not allowed to tour the city orphanage but I did get to attend the meeting where the families paid $3,000 (in brand new one hundred dollar bills) for the adoptions.  We had a national guide with us the entire trip.  Her name was Chen Chen (I called her “Sister Chen”) and a local guide in each city.  All twenty of us traveled in a mini-bus.  We climbed the Great Wall, toured a jade factory, explored museums, parks, and statues.  We shopped in outdoor markets, at tourist stops, and in department stores.  While at the Nanning Department Store the sales clerk used an abacus to calculate my purchase.  We ate course after course of delicious Chinese food (though one of our last meals was at the Hard Rock Café).   I was very careful about (not) drinking the water and only had to use a squat toilet (hole in the ground) a few times (hooray for conventional toilets around the world). I had a stash of pepto-bismol with me and took it every morning.   While in Guilin we went on a boat ride along the Li River.  The scenery was breathtaking.  People were living on the river so you can imagine my surprise when they washed the dishes in which our lunch was cooked in the Li River.  I almost threw up–and thought for sure we would all get sick, but no one did.

A few of the baby girls had been in foster homes so some of us had the chance to visit the homes and meet the foster families.  I was asked to go along to take photographs.  It was intense and emotional.  One of my favorite pictures is of Julia with her foster parents; there is a lot of love in that photo.  The oldest girl (who was about two and a half) had lived in a very primitive foster home.  It was dark, sparse, and had a chicken in a coop inside the house.

Everyone that adopts a child in China goes to Ghangzhou for the babies to get a medical check-up, a passport and a visa.  While the families took care of business, I flew to Hong Kong and reconnected with a friend living there.  I went to Stanley Market, saw the Hong Kong Temple, enjoyed a boat ride, walked all over the city, and tried Peking Duck for the first time.

Traveling in China was an amazing experience that I captured on 45 rolls of film.  I loved walking on the Great Wall.  I loved all the sights and smells and seeing how people lived.  I loved seeing people riding bikes loaded with bundles and dead chickens.  I loved trying new food, meeting new people, experiencing a new place.  I bought a travel journal before I went.  Each day I wrote and glued things in it.  The cover says: I AM NOT THE SAME HAVING SEEN THE MOON SHINE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD.

7 thoughts on “Unexpected Adventures”

  1. Oh! I loved this! I love adventure and new places and new people. Thanks for the glimpse into your experiences. It reminded me of traveling in Honduras, working in an orphanage there, and falling in love with the sights, sounds, and smells of a place so very different from the one I called home. It is mesmerizing to absorb a new place. Your post makes me want to hop a plane and see another side of the world too.

  2. You've certainly had some wonderful experiences Ellen. I've never flown that far away, despite all the hours I've spent on a plane. My longest flight was to London, which is really no longer than from NYC to LAX. Someday I'll get a more exotic stamp in my passport. (I'll be in the Bahamas this week…but they don't stamp you for cruises, do they?)

    I love your slices of life on your blog and here. Hugs! ♥

  3. what an amazing experience to get to be apart of…not only seeing a complete different part of the world but getting a chance to see someone's world just beginning as those families welcomed those little girls into thier arms. thanks for a beautiful glimpse into china…

  4. Loved this! I had the travel bug something fierce when I was younger. Been to Europe three times, Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, don't know how many states, Peru (as a missionary) and the Carribean (Cayman, Belize). As I've gotten older I've lost some of that burning desire for new places–but your descriptions remind me of why those new places were so alluring. It changes me in inexplicable ways to be planted on new soil. Maybe I'll get to see more of the world again someday.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love your description of China. The way you recount your experiences reminds me of my visit to Beijing 6 years ago. I LOVED it! I did not, however, love the squat toilet at the Great Wall of China. Or the hut made of blankets in which it resided. But other than that… a great experience. I wish I had kept a daily travel journal as you did. I know I've forgotten so much of that trip already. I think my 40-year-old brain leaks.


Leave a Comment