Sunday, August 21, 2005
Why I Research
The sudden bump of the plane jolted me awake. I turned and opened the plane’s window and gazed out upon the landscape below me. Behind the plane's wings and to the east the horizon was growing light with the approaching sun rise, and below me the high-rise buildings and streets of Guangzhou could be seen.
It was 6:00 am.
I asked myself why it was that I am continually drawn back to this place. Why do I endure the almost suicide-inducing long hours cramped in a crowded and stuffy airplane; why deprive myself of the companionship and love of my two beautiful and young daughters I was forced by finances and circumstances to leave behind? Every time I make this flight I re-evaluate my
reasons for doing so, the costs of making the trip, and the purpose I have for being here.
From the first time I came here in April 1998 to adopt Meikina, I have loved China. Now, as then, my experiences living in this country have been almost completely positive. Everywhere I go I am greeted by friendly faces, treated with extreme courtesy and hospitality, and made to feel like royalty in my interactions with orphanage directors and other civic leaders.
But it isn't the red carpet treatment that draws me. In searching my heart to determine what needs are filled here, I am able to discern three driving forces bringing me back, time after time.
The first is an intense desire to learn what is "China," in the hopes that one day I will be able to convey that knowledge to my daughters. I remember feeling intense guilt when I adopted Meikina, guilt at taking her from this wonderful country full of culture, history and tradition. Now, as then, I have made a promise to one day share with my daughters the stories of my own
journeys in this land, as well as sharing with them the history and traditions of their ancestors. China is changing at an almost mind-numbing pace, with old structures being razed to make way for modern high-rise apartment buildings, quaint country dirt roads being paved into four-lane highways. Even now I see the growth and development in areas that I revisit after only five years. By the time my daughters are old enough to experience China themselves, it will be a changed and renewed country.
The second, even more fundamental reason I return here is the feeling of intense community one senses here. In discussing my feelings with others who have visited and stayed here themselves, I have had them confirm my impressions. One simply feels at home when one comes to China.
That bears some explanation. In the U.S. we boast of our freedoms, political and personal, held in high esteem as the ultimate blessing of being born in America. But with that freedom comes a cost, and for me that cost can be seen in the neighborhoods and homes of our neighbors and ourselves. We rush from one task to another, blindly pursuing the myriad goals that we have before us. Our pursuit of personal satisfaction and financial success propels us forward,
and we seldom take time to stop and enjoy the present. We seldom walk over to our neighbors and chat on the front lawn, or engage them in play such as badminton or catch. We are too busy mowing our lawns, painting our houses, landscaping our yards to spend idle time with others.
There are few single-family homes in China. By virtue of its tremendous population, the Chinese live in tall high-rise apartments. There are no lawns to mow, there is no yard to landscape. Few own cars, so public transportation is used constantly and efficiently. Taxis, buses, motorcycles and bicycles replace the American car.
The ground floor of every building is devoted to small shops, giving each apartment complex the ability to be self-sustaining. Food is easily obtained at the local fresh markets, located within walking distance of any living places.
The net result is that one feels a much stronger sense of community and belonging in China then in the U.S. Crime is much lower, no doubt a result of the lower cultural expectations and high penalties. One witnesses children freely walking and playing in the streets, unaware and unafraid. The streets are swept clean of litter, and adorned with beautiful trees and flowers. Along the street by my hotel is a huge Banyan tree that is over 180 years old, planted decades before the pioneers arrived in my home state of Utah, when many of my nations Founding Fathers still walked the earth.
Lastly, I am driven by my need to have a worthy and good purpose to my life. My purpose in coming to China is to help parents obtain and retain some sense of history for their daughters who were born in place. As I look through my own life-book, created by my mother when I turned twenty, I am comforted by the sense of continuity I see. I gaze upon pictures of myself as a newborn infant, and each page presents a new view as I age year by year. I feel whole, knowing that I have a complete sense of who I am, where I have come from, and who has
been a part of my life from its beginnings.
A fire was lit when I first returned to China to research Meikina's beginnings. When we adopted Meikina we were given a camera with five photos taken shortly before we arrived, and a picture of her at five months used in her document preparation. Aside from those enticing tid-bits, we had nothing. No pictures of who cared for her, no sense of where she had lived, to whom she had been born.
By returning I was able to have many of my questions answered. I accomplished what few parents have the ability to do -- obtain the information that will one day be of importance to our children. My returning here allows me to research for hundreds of "my girls", obtaining pictures, retrieving notes left by their birth mothers, taking photos of the people who raised them their first few months of life. In this small, and perhaps insignificant way, I am able to
cast my shadow, deepen my footprint across the beach of time, and ensure a small degree of immortality.
I love China. My family says I am obsessed with this land. In many ways I guess I am. But it is a result of my seeing in this place a community and people that live a life that in many ways (but certainly not in every way) I wish I could live. A place with true history, a land with true culture and tradition, a people with a true sense of community and a spirit of belonging. There is much to love here, and it draws me back time and again.