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Experience

plane and landIt has been eight months since I took my trip to China. In that time, I have been digesting all of the events and occurrences that have happened since then. Going back to China was, for me, a learning experience, and the group I went with served as a catalyst in my journey. What I learned about China and myself in those few weeks surprised me.

Slightly altered from the traditional* adoptees’ first time trip back to China since the adoption date, my first time incidentally reflected some differences. My age and the lack of a familiar family member to guide me on the voyage influenced how I interacted with the Chinese citizens. Some experiences and lessons are experienced by a majority of first time adoptees. For example, an awkward moment may occurs when the Chinese worker in the glass booth at the airport asks for your Chinese name and inquires after the spelling, and all you can do is just stare blankly at him for a moment because of your lack of knowledge and preparation.  Other lessons are more unique to the situations. In my case, as a group assignment, my classmates and I were assigned to complete a scavenger hunt in order to enrich our learning experience. Having little to no linguistic skills in mandarin but the appearance of one, I was looked at from time to time by individual Chinese citizens in hopes for a better translation of my peers’ questions. Needless to say, I learned quickly to let the students that were better adapted at speaking mandarin lead the pack while I stayed in the back.

Like any good educational trip, an itinerary was put together to guide the class through the weeks to come. The itinerary included three key city locations, a few international businesses, tourist attractions, meal times and travel times. Even with the itinerary packed, our schedule allowed for leniency on activities such as shopping and exploration. My favor shopping area was in Shanghai in a district that is sometimes called “Old Town” due to the novelty of the replicated old buildings. This area, primarily catering to tourists with loaded pockets, incorporated small shops and winding alleyways were prospecting vendors looked to help lighten the load of unsuspecting tourist. I learned how to haggle reasouvenirs lly quickly after paying ten times the price for my first souvenir. Any future vendors from there on were disappointed in their profit. My haggling skills improved to the point where I was able to get the cost of the marked up items down fifty to seventy-five percent off. In some instances, my friend Catherine and I would team up to get what we wanted.

What I really liked about shopping in Shanghai was the Chinese vendors. Either the vendors hid their surprise or showed no interest when I could not communicate with them in Chinese. Sales were on their mind, not my lack of knowledge, though some did ask after we completed a transaction. Even when the inquiry sparked, about my past, I did not feel as awkward as I had before when presented with the same question. By then, I had learned what an appropriate response was. I learned that I should only tell the bare essentials which excluded my adoption and let them speculate the rest. My comfortable feelings could have also been due to the fact that the majority of the Chinese vendors only spoke English to me.

…..To be continued

*I use the word “traditional” lightly here because not all adoptees experience the same first time pilgrimage to China. Not everyone gets to take a family, or be young when they go back to China. Some may not have even been back yet.

Planning a Trip

20120811_203657-1I have lived in the United States for 17 years, and not once, in that time, have I ever been back to China. When I was 12, I received a letter in the mail inviting me to got back to China with a group of girls from my providence through LifeLink, the adoption agency my mother went through to adopt me. It was not meant to be. The next opportunity would not present itself until I reached college age. In the school of business, a trip to China is incorporated into an upper level class only offered to juniors and seniors. The class focuses on foreign business and policies. This was the opportunity I was waiting for.

My knowledge of Chinese culture and history is very limited, and the fact that I cannot speak the language just makes it that much harder to plan a trip. I was and still am apprehensive about going back, but I want to go. Part of me wonders if the Chinese citizens will accept me or see me as a disappointment. I chose to go on the trip partly because of safety. Safety is a big issue for me, and I did not want to go alone not knowing what to do. With this class trip, I will be closer to my birth place than I have ever been. Even though, I will not get to see my providence, but I am super excited to be apart of this trip. What makes this trip extra special is the fact that my friend Catherine, another Chinese adoptee, will be attending this trip with me. The set day for the departure is May 11 , a week after my exams. This trip is sure to be an educational and personal experience for me.

Classes

Chinese classRight now, I am a senior in college getting my bachelor’s degree. My major requires me to take up a minor to fill my graduation requirements, so I have chosen to take up a speech communication curriculum. No matter what field I pursue, the speech minor would benefit me no matter what. It turns out that my speech minor has been more helpful that I had originally anticipated. Not only have I gained a better sense of communication with others, but personally, I have learned more about myself.

In my intercultural communication class, I have been given another reason to do some introspection. Throughout the course, my perception of what communication means is constantly challenged by culture. What I understood about communication for one group did not necessarily apply to another group.  My ideas of myself was also challenged in a five page assignment dealing with culture identity. The assignment in itself should have been simple, talking about myself, but the fact that it had to do with identity required some thought. How does the world view me and how do I view myself?

Culturally, I am American; there is no denying that fact. I was raised in the American traditions and have assimilated myself into the American life style. As a member of an individualistic country, I have learned to be skeptical of others until I get to know them. I view myself as being part of the white community. The world, however, has classified me as being Asian. To them, I am an outsider and another foreign entity that will skew balance of culture to the minorities. Their expectations of me consist of eating rice, being smart, failing at driving, and other stereotypes.

My family sees me as another kid in the flock, I see myself as being part of the melting pot, and the world sees me as another Asian girl. I fit in all of these brackets, but first and foremost, I am myself. I am an ordinary person. I am no different from any other individual living in America or any other country. On the ground level, we are all people who have our own struggles and history to write.

There are many different ways to explores self. All of us, the adoptees, will discover ourselves in different ways; time will guide us down that path. For me, time has led me to college on my path of self discovery.

Stories of Abandonment

When I hear the word abandonment, I always think of the One Child Policy and attribute it to my own misfortunes. However, this policy may not have been the reasoning for my abandonment. In a recent article that I read published on March 28, 2014 entitled Chinese Parents Abandon Children at Guangzhou Baby Hatch hosted, I learned several reasoning’s for children being forfeited by parents in China. Most of these children had some type of disabilities or illness that could not be treated. Some families did not have the funds to support a special needs child. In one particular case, a mother took her son who seemed to be around the age of four, to the designated drop off point. The article states that she had some type of crippling illness of her own and could not properly raise the child. The only hope for these children are in the hands of complete strangers.

Most of these families had a look of anguish on their faces which makes me think of what my parent(s) might have gone through. Did my parent(s) not have the resources to care for me, or maybe they had some type of crippling illness that prevented them from raising an infant? I do not believe my parent(s) abandoned me because of any visible handicaps or illnesses. My friend Catherine has an idea of why a parent(s) may abandon their child. A member of the adoption agency informed her family of the possibility of fleeing families. These families that attempted to flee Royaltyeither abandoned their child in fear that that child would be too much of a reliability or the families had their child taken from them when the escape attempted failed. Another possibility for my abandonment is more despairing than the other theories. This theory involves my mother being either a prostitute or a victim of the sex slave industry. Hopefully neither of these ideas hold true.

A small positive outcome from my uncertain past is the fact that I can fabricate my own origins. Here is a story I imagined when I was younger. It starts with me being a descendant of royalty or from a wealthy family. I was captured by a fiend that was going to use me for ransom, but the plan fell short when he lost me. I was mistaken for another abandoned baby and taken to the orphanage. My parents were not able to find me, and as a result believed I was dead. Unbeknownst to them, I was taken to a distant land. As I got older, my stories became more elaborate with one story including being a test tube clone baby. Until the true reasoning for my abandonment is revealed, I will continue to create stories for myself. I might as well have some fun with my past.

Reasoning

River sideToday, I was perusing my adoption papers again. I found my mother’s evaluation form from LifeLink, the organization she went through to adopt me. Before she passed away, she explained to me that she adopted me because she did not possess the capabilities of having a child of her own. The evaluation form gave a more explicit reason for her choice in adopting a Chinese girl.

In the form, it stated that my mother had always wanted to be a mother. When my Aunt, her sister, had her first child, my mother always wanted to take care of my Aunt’s baby girl. Whenever chaperones were needed for my cousin’s field trips, my mother would always volunteer. All of the interactions with my cousin just reminded my mother of how much she really wanted a child of her own. She started to look into adoption as a viable alternative.

An international adoption would offer her the best choice in children. Her original goal was to adopt a baby, but with her slight physical handicap she was limited on the age of the child. Every nation has its own policies for adoption my mother found out. The African nation, for example, did not allow for white families to adopt their children at that time.  Their reasoning included the fact that the child would face cultural implications later in life. This conflict could potentially be harmful to that child. It turns out that China had the best option for my mother. She had a good chance to get a toddler, and their policies for adoption accommodated her needs.

Moon Light BridgeThus started her process of adoption in China. She had to prove that she had the financial capabilities as well as prove her own capabilities of raising a child. Since my mother was not married, my grandmother had to vow that she would partake in my upbringing. If a time ever arose where my mother was incapacitated for any reason, then it was up to my grandmother to take up the role in caring for me. Nearly a year and a half passed before my adoption day. It was the proudest moment of my mother’s life and an adventure of a life time for my grandmother.

Author note: All orphaned children need homes, it doesn’t matter if they are from your backyard or from another country. However, I understand why some families opt for international adoption(s). Adopted children from the states have a better chance of being taken back to their biological families. I have an adoptive cousin whose family had this issue. International adoptions are more solidified and permanent. This documentation, International Adoption Documentation, speaks of some reasoning for parents choosing their adoptees. It also helped me understand why my mother chose an international adoption, and why other parents are so hesitant to do a local adoption.

Parents of adoptees

20130329_171555This post is going to be directed to parents of adoptees. These ideas are not limited to just Chinese adoptions but can be implemented in any type of adoptions. You may have heard these suggestions before or you may not have. In my opinion, these are a few of the most important ideas to know and hopefully will be beneficial for you and your adoptee(s). Remember that each adoptee(s) is different and will develop in their own way. I am basing my ideas off of how I was raised and what I wished could have happened. As an older adoptee, I understand now that keeping the Chinese identity alive in a child is important. I think if my family would have taken a more productive role in my education on culture, I would not face some of the challenges as I do now. Do not get me wrong, I love my family more than anything, but as far as keeping my Chinese identity alive, they have fallen short. With this in mind, I do not advise you to force your child to participate in every Chinese event.

When we are children, we do not give too much thought to our future as we do when we get older. We do not look at who we are and ask ourselves how we identify ourselves in the world. As a result, we miss out on opportunities to learn about ourselves. That is why, even if a child shows no interest in their heritage, you should still educate them about it. Make it a fun learning experience for them and have the whole family get involved. Later on when or if they become interested, they will have that background knowledge to build upon. I was very sheltered at a young age and had to build my knowledge of the Chinese culture by myself when I finally wanted to know. There is so much to learn; it is almost over whelming. Most other adoptees I know do not understand the implications of adoption until they leave home. Some small random advice to consider is stay connected. Ask other parents of adoptees on what they think and how they dealt with certain challenges. Ask other adoptee(s) what their views are. Go to seminars and join groups that focus on adoption. It is easier to stay connected with others with today’s technology. Also read up on it. There are too many resources out there for parents to be ignorant of adoption. Be aware that adoption is a life long learning process, and if you do not actively seek to understand the world of adoption for your child, then you are neglecting your duties as a parent.

If a family has adopted an older child then it would be wise to document the child’s memories. Once they understand your language, have them write down what they remember from their past or have them tell you and you can document it. It is something nice to have for future references. As we get older, we forget, and old memories become more clouded. When I was adopted at the age of four, I had some recollections of my stay in China. However, I now cannot recall very clearly what my past experiences were and cannot distinguish false memories from real ones. IMG_20140317_000140

Language, I believe, is the most important thing to keep in a Chinese adoptees’ life if anything. Language connects everyone to their culture. Without it, limitations arise and true understanding cannot be obtained. I am faced with the limitations of not knowing my language. I wished my mother would have pushed me to learn my language as a young child. Seeking more information about oneself becomes harder without the appropriate language. It is best to start young, because when you get older, it is difficult to pick up the language as I have personally experienced. The gap between the child and the culture is diminished with language. If anything, it is beneficial over all. They may not use it for identification purposes, but it can be useful in other situations.

Adoption is a life changing process that lasts a life time for you and the adoptee(s). The complications and difficulties are greatly magnified compared to raising a biological child. As parents of adoptees, it is your responsibility to give your child all the opportunities to understand themselves and their past. Never hold back information from your child, and do your homework. Keep good records. Bprepared to face many emotional challenges when they get older as well as the regular challenges. From there, they must discover who they are and how they fit into society. All you can do is be there for them and help them to the best of your abilities. 

Part I-Categorization

We are born with the abilities to differentiate what is different from ourselves, and what is different from others. However, the values that are bestowed upon these differences are taught, not innate.

As young children, our perception of life is different.  Our culture has not yet taught us the norms and beliefs of society. As a result, everything is different. We observe these differences and are taught by our parents in the beginning how to categorized those differences as we age. When times, our parents pair up with our teachers to further our education. We learn how to distinguish from living organisms from non-living organisms, food from non-food. By the time a child reaches school age, children are taught that they are people and cows and dog are anime. With a child’s mind, I entered my first day at school with these abilities. I was able to recognize that everyone was different in their own way. The differences did not matter, because we all had them. There were no one differences that was greater than another. 20140223_174948

With time, we  learned to expand our broad categorizations such as animals and plants to  smaller groupings such as cats and bushes. These subdivisions found its way to human. All of my classmates fit into one category, the white category, I was left with my own category as the Asian student. Outside of the class, I encounter other categories such as African-Americans. But as for myself, I was rare. Only in Chinese themed restaurant, were there people like me. But by then, I did not feel like I belonged with them. My culture and race separated then. I was white but people, my classmates, saw me as Asian. The realization of being physically Asian and the disconnection from my culture did not bother me however. As I said before, I rarely saw others like me and my appearance was rarely mentioned since it was evident that I was Asian on some level and my world was confined into a small town where everyone knew each other. Combined with my families indifference to my ethnicity, I grow up with the mindset of indifference.

With this in mind, my differences were pointed out occasionally. The first time someone ever pointed out a difference to me was around the second grade. During art class, there was some down time and one of the boys at my table pointed out my narrow eyes. He thought they were strange and some of the other kids did too. I did not know how to feel about it. My eyes, I thought, were the same any other eyes; they did the something as everyone else. I gave the boy a mean look and retorted to his comment. Our commotion must have alerted the teacher, because she made her way to the back room where we all sat. One of the girls close to my vicinity told the teacher what was going on when she asked. She told us that we are all different and that even though he may think my eyes were strange, I may think he was strange. Also, she told us that she liked my eyes. After that, the conversation dropped and we went back to our art projects. The boy who made the comment about my eyes never mentioned it again. It took me a few days to forgive him but eventually I did and that was that.

To be continued…….