Okay, this story, fair warning, sucks. It haunts me to this day. But it really happened.
I’m posting it because it happened, and I think there’s value in knowing what some people are really like.
I don’t think it’s any secret that I love China, it’s my favorite county to visit in the world. I love almost everything about it, the art, the culture, the food, the history. But most of all, I love the people. There’s a pretty racist myth out there among Westerners that Chinese people are ‘cold,’ ‘aloof,’ or ‘distant.’ Like most blinkered Western mythology, it’s just bullshit. But that idea is out there and perpetuated constantly. We found it to be a total lie, I never got so many hugs from people I’d only just met as in China. Little schoolkids would come up and say hello and I would try out my crappy few words of Cantonese or Mandarin and they would speak in their excellent English. And I make friends every trip I go.
One time, in Beijing, I went to the restroom in a large (for Beijing) grocery store, and there was a group of teenage girls in there, and one of them came up to me and said, “You is so beautiful.” And I was just stunned, I tried to imagine an American kid saying that out of the blue, just such a kind thought, out of nowhere, and couldn’t quite do it. I told them that they were the MOST beautiful, but again, we saw that kind of random kindness everywhere…”aloof,” my ass.
I remember we took off to some backstreet markets in, I think, Shenzhen, and I found a barber cutting hair right in the middle of the street, chair, mirror, all the stuff, just right in the street, next to a vendor selling frogs and spiders. I must have stared, because the guy got a little perturbed (plus, he had chops, the guy was an excellent precision barber)…I was embarrassed and I haltingly conveyed that I was a hairdresser too, and then the guy was incredibly nice, and showed me his supplies and his very expensive Jo Well shears (the same kind I used…they were 300 bucks a pop back then, and if you dropped them, they had to be hand-sharpened). It was lovely.
So, I love China. But my knowledge of the place was from books, mostly, and there’s a lot they don’t talk about in books.
On the way back to the states from my first trip (16 hours!), we noticed that there were about a dozen women in our cabin with very young babies and toddlers. The women were all Caucasian, except for one African American woman (who might actually have been British, she was seated a ways from me). Some of you might know where this is heading…if you’ve ever taken a flight back from China, you will often see this. All the babies and toddlers were Chinese.
Now, there’s a lot of controversy over so many Americans adopting Chinese babies, and I get why a lot of people have problems with it. But at the time, I was only very dimly aware of the cultural implications of it, typical American lack of awareness. I will say, these women did appear to be wonderful mommies, you could feel the love pouring out of them. How it all worked out, I have no idea. It’s a big issue and I’m not informed enough to know all the connotations.
But the love these mommies were showing was intense. It’s a long flight, we settled in. After a few hours, a bunch of the new adopted moms got up with their new babies to walk around a little bit, and got together in the forward space between cabins. They started talking to one another heatedly, and I thought they might actually be fighting, weirdly enough. Then they came back to their seats and almost all were either crying or looking like they were about to cry.
I had one of the mommies next to me and I asked her if she was okay…she couldn’t talk right away, so I gave her a bit of space.
Eventually we talked…contrary to what some people think, you can’t just show up with a checkbook and buy a baby from China, thank god. The process is laborious and draining, you have to come visit, you go through an extensive background check, it’s expensive and time-consuming, but necessary. There are orphanages that are overcrowded and underfunded, probably like any country in the world, but they want the babies and children to go to good homes and are scrupulous about it, as well they should be.
These women had almost all gone through the process at the same time, so they almost all knew each other. This was them taking their new children home for the first time, so I wondered what had made them so angry, then so bitterly sad.
It turns out that there had been another woman in the group, who had wanted to adopt a five year old girl. She had gone through the entire process, was approved, and had flown over to take her new daughter home.
This is the bad part.
When she got there, her beautiful new daughter-to-be had had a slight scalp condition, nothing serious, and the medics there had shaved her head. Evidently, she had had long, beautiful hair, she had never had a haircut her entire life, but they had to shave her head and now she just had maybe an inch of growout.
And the adoptive mother took one look, said her husband would be angry, and backed out. She canceled the adoption.
Because the little girl didn’t have long, China doll hair.
She went home on another flight so she didn’t have to face the other, angry moms, but she wouldn’t be dissuaded. So this little girl, who has been told she’s going to have a family, she’s going to have a mom and dad and leave the orphanage, has to be told that her ‘parents,’ have changed their minds.
I’m still raging about this after all these years. It’s so sick on so many levels, it’s racist, it’s evil, it’s anti-human, I don’t even know what to say that’s bad ENOUGH.
The other mommies, to their credit, they all said, every single one, “We have been through the screening. We’ve done the checks,” and they every single one volunteered on the spot to adopt the little girl. No hesitation, they just couldn’t face what they had witnessed. Hell, I would have happily adopted the little girl myself at that moment…all other considerations are just kind of background noise at that exact moment when you think of that little girl being rejected by the world’s biggest a-holes. And worse, the mommy’s said the adoption administrators weren’t surprised at all…it had happened before.
There are a lot of complicated issues with almost any adoption. I myself was adopted. And people rightly have concerns about issues of culture, country and race. But as much as I think the little girl must have felt a great deal of pain over being told she wasn’t going to have a new family, I often think she must be better off in many ways, not being raised by the most horrible people in the world, people who wanted a trophy, not a child.
I know that when you are a kid without a family, having a family is pretty much all you think about. But that doesn’t mean ANY family is better.
I hope some real human beings adopted that little girl and I hope she’s the happiest child on Earth.