Chinese Culture

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After three trips to China (four for me), reading a number of books about China written by Chinese authors as well as our favorite American in China, Peter Hessler, and learning some rudimentary Chinese we’re starting to feel like we know a little something. So we’ve got the Chinese outfits, have learned a little Chinese, and we think we’ve got this nailed, right? Not so fast…2013-08-01-DSC_0582

Turns out that there are not pandas everywhere.  We had to buy these guys since pandas were a close second to a new sister for Rion.  He nearly threw at tantrum at the Great Wall because there weren’t any pandas there.  We did see one sleepy panda at the Hefei zoo.  She was hiding in her glass enclosure due to the extraordinary heat.  She ate a few bites of bamboo and went to sleep with her posterior (as Julia likes to say) facing the window.  Rion didn’t understand why there weren’t pandas at the Holiday Inn since they had small bamboo plants on the breakfast table.  He asked Julia’s foster mom why they didn’t have a panda on their rooftop garden since they had bamboo.  (Yes, we met Julia’s foster family – more on that in another post.)

2013-08-01-DSC_0556It turns out there are a lot of things you can do on the streets of China that you might not find in the U.S.  A quick haircut on the sidewalk is common-place both in in Beijing and Hefei.  What was somewhat unique in Hefei were the earwax ladies.  Every day we walked past these women with lights strapped to their foreheads and a handful of tools with little brushes on the end.  Business was thriving.  It was rare to see them without a client apparently suffering from severe earwax.  I’m not sure the ladies would have passed California’s standards for sanitizing those tools.

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We didn’t find anyone familiar with fortune cookies by the way, and this is what a real Chinese take-out box looks like:

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Day 5? 6? 7? – We’ve Lost Track

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As much as any place, Guangzhou feels like home to us in China. We’ve stayed here, in three different hotels, a total of about four weeks over the past three adoption trips. Guangzhou feels very welcoming. Trish and I both feel drawn to it more than anywhere else in China. I wish I had a week to just get out with shoes and a subway pass to explore the city randomly.

It’s a very cosmopolitan city. Lots of Westerners live here, and lots of immigrants from Africa and other countries live here as well. It’s far enough away from Beijing that it’s isolated from the politics of China. (Think Texas compared to D.C.) People here seem to have a bit more freedom, although it’s still very much communist China, one-child policy and all.

The city is huge, and if I could get to Wikipedia, I could tell you how huge. (But, you can’t get to everything on the internet in China.) Everywhere direction you look though, dozens of tall buildings dot the landscape, most seemingly apartments.

Guangzhou is tropical, and very lush, and it’s the middle of the rainy season here. It’s been quite a nice change from the sweltering heat of Hefei in Anhui province. But it’s supposed to get hotter over the next few days.

Thankfully, Guangzhou is also honk-free! Whoever runs the city has outlawed honking. Seriously, I know it’s not uncommon in countries other than the U.S., or New York, but Chinese drivers honk for everything. You might as well build a horn button into the driver’s seat. Traffic seems a little more orderly here than some cities in China.

Guangzhou’s also probably China’s greatest commercial city. You can buy almost anything made in China here in the city. Every October, Guangzhou hosts the world’s largest import-export convention and businessmen from all over the world flock here. It has a long history as a commercial city and all the Western trading powers and companies established outposts here in former Canton as early as 125 years ago.

For us, it’s also the central clearing point for every U.S. family adopting from China. The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou processes all the immigration paperwork for Chinese children adopted by U.S. citizens. Every family must meet personally with Consulate officials, swear an oath to raise the child (beats me what I’m swearing to), and wait a day or two for final immigration paperwork. Without this, you cannot bring your Chinese child into the U.S. legally.

So, in every major Western hotel in Guangzhou, you’ll find at least a dozen or more adoptive families from all over the U.S. It’s always fun to talk with them, compare backgrounds in the U.S. and their experiences all over China. Every family usually compares how well the bonding process is proceeding. You’ll hear some interesting stories, such as one family adopting an 11 year old girl whose foster mother apparently told her she’d get to come back in a couple weeks after her visit to the U.S.

As reasonably intrepid travelers, Tricia and I enjoy meeting other people as much as anything. I’m lucky (as an introvert) to have my extrovert wife Tricia who’ll strike up a conversation with almost anybody. Without the kids, we probably would have had dinner last night with a group of Fed Ex pilots all speaking Tricia’s former lingo.

We’re enjoying and surviving the trip. It’s Sunday morning in Guangzhou, so we really only have a few more days here. We’ll catch the train to Hong Kong late Thursday afternoon, stay overnight, and fly out to San Francisco around midday Friday. Everybody misses home sweet home after 11 days of travel in three different cities.

The Hardest Decision

JuliaJulia asked me to read her a story Saturday afternoon.  She picked The Prince of Egypt, which is based on the Disney movie about the life of Moses.  We sat down on the couch and started to read.  I got to the beginning of the second page, “Yocheved (Moses’ mother) made the hardest decision of all:  to save her child, she must send him away.”  BAM, just like that the truth of it hit me HARD.  I fought back the tears that were welling in my eyes, and it was several minutes before I could go on.

One consequence of adopting from China is that you usually don’t get any information about your child except where someone found them—police station, hospital, community park, or other public visible place.  Sometimes there’s a note with the exact birth date, but often Chinese officials just guess and assign a date.  With Julia, however, we know a little more.  Her mother gave birth to her in this subway station in Guangzhou, China.  DSC_0481She was taken to a nearby hospital so they could cut the umbilical cord.  When doctors cut the cord, she ran.

Our guide on Julia’s adoption trip speculated that Julia’s birth mother was probably a young single woman.  Under Chinese population control laws, she was not permitted to have a child.  If she did, the child wouldn’t have access to the government health care or public schooling.  Simon, our guide, also speculated that Julia’s birth mother gave birth in a public place just so that Julia would be found.

Yocheved, Moses’ mother, knew that the Egyptians would kill Moses if they discovered him.  Pharoah had decreed that all Hebrew baby boys should be killed because he feared an uprising from their growing numbers.  So, she set him adrift on the Nile River where he was adopted into Pharoah’s household.

From our perspective, it’s hard to accept a mother’s abandonment of her child.  But, Chinese society is far different.  So, as Julia grows up and wrestles with her abandonment by her birth mother, we’ll try to help her understand.  Her birth mother probably made this most difficult choice:  to save her child, she ran away.  Julia will probably wrestle with this a lot as she grows up, and she’ll feel the loss deeply.  But, I know we’ll be there to listen and seek to understand what she feels.

Xinran’s book, Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother:  Stories of Loss and Love describes the difficult choices made by many mothers.  Xinran, a former radio personality in Nanjing, China, interviewed midwives, students, businesswomen, peasants and adoption workers about relinquishing their daughters.  They talk about the combination of feudal traditions, government policy and abject poverty that causes women to relinquish their daughters.  It’s a heartbreaking read, but if you want to learn the real circumstances behind the stories of these mothers, I highly recommend it.  Written to the “lost daughters,” Xinran tells the story of how much their mothers loved them and how, as one put it, “they paid for that love with an endless stream of bitter tears.”  Ultimately, we hope Julia realizes how much her mother must have loved her, and how much she cared.