|"... at its core was the pleasure of sampling an alternative existence without giving up the one you know best."|
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
One of the small daily pleasures the girls enjoyed during the trip was walking ahead of us, having people react to them--or not react to them--as if they were local. There was a distance at which the relationship between the two Chinese-looking girls walking in front and the two foreign adults walking behind them became ambiguous, then temporarily invisible. At two or three feet ahead, the girls were clearly our daughters, and everybody stared. At four or five feet they were advance scouts; at six feet, maybe related to us and maybe not; and beyond six feet they began to become just two girls going somewhere on their own, like the many parentless adventurers in the fairy tales and chapter books they love so much. People spoke to them in Chinese, which they didn’t understand, or took no notice of them because there were Westerners to stare at coming down the sidewalk in their wake. The pleasure of it for the girls was layered, but at its core was the pleasure of sampling an alternative existence without giving up the one you know best.
Sometimes we had to keep them close, so as not to lose them. One brutally hot day we were in a train station in Wuhan, in a surging crowd of travelers. I had Ling-li, our older daughter, by the hand, dragging a rolling suitcase with the other. I was looking up ahead, where my wife was trudging with Yuan, our younger daughter, and the other suitcase. Some change in the pressure of Ling-li’s grip caused me to look down at her: a woman had appeared out of the crowd and taken her other hand. I had noticed this woman before, on the train, because she stood out. She was tall, broad-shouldered, all in black: black tights, black high heels, snug black top, very short black skirt figured in a gold pattern. She wore a lot of makeup and had spiky long hair and walked with a little extra swing in the hips. She kept her eyes on the way ahead, her hand around Ling-li’s, and the three of us walked like that through the station, an alternative family group. When we got to the exit the woman smiled down at Ling-li and disengaged her hand, opened a little yellow parasol, and went off down the street.
I exchanged a look with my daughter. She shrugged and said, “That was strange, and I felt a little sad, but it was good.”
My daughter is one of the oldest Chinese adoptees. She 8 years old at adoption and is now almost 24 years old. We made our first return visit in 2001, with subsequent visits in 2005, and 2009. She also loves being in a place where all the people look like her and I am the odd one out. I arranged our first visit so she could see what China looked like in 2001. Her head was still filled by images of the Institute and the feelings of a small orphan child who was not wanted by anyone. We taught English through Concordia College and she met many Chinese people who affirmed her as the terrific person she has grown to be. We went back to the Institute and looked it over carefully. It was very important in helping her adjust her image of China and her life in America. When asked about this, she said "Before this trip, I was a Chinese person living in America. Now I am an ABC an American Born in China." A huge change that could only have happened by this visit. Last summer, she travelled back to China with a group from Gallaudet University. While my daughter is hearing, she is fluent in American SIgn Language, and wanted the practice. She also loves the opportunity to eat good Chinese food. I am very happy she feels comfortable in her birth country and has many happy memories to temper the less happy times she spent in her earliest years. BJ the mom