Thursday, March 08, 2012

Review of Jim Garrow's "The Pink Pagoda"

I first became aware of Jim Garrow's story in March 2008, after an article was published in a Canadian magazine giving the basic elements of his story.   In June 2008, I decided to speak to the man personally and called him at his home in Ontario and asked him to go into the details of his work in more depth.  My intent was to publish the interviews in June 2008, but I was asked  to hold off, because there was a Canadian investigation into Garrow's claims of infant smuggling, and did not wish him to become cautious.  I finally decided to post the interviews to my blog after the GuelphMercury article was published in August 2010 confirming the investigation.  One can listen to our Garrow interviews here.

One is struck upon opening Jim Garrow's new book, "The Pink Pagoda", by the statements of support found in the first section of the book, entitled "Endorsements".  These written statements of support for Jim and his work come from such people as "Dr. Parry, Assistant to the CEO for the International Internet Alliance", a person and organization on whom I could find no information; Ross McKitrick, an outspoken critic of Global Warming; Robin W. Pifer, a Pastor of the Cedar Alliance Church; Walter Baker, executive director of the Fairhaven Bible Conference; William D. Gairdner, a former Olympic athlete and author of such books as "The Trouble with Canada," and "The War Against the Family"; a mysterious and unidentifiable "Dr. A.B.", allegedly of the Unesco-World Health Organization; Dr. Jim Garlow, a pastor and adoptive parent; and Jerome Corsi, author of "Where's the Birth Certificate?", about . . .  well you know what that is about.

All of Garrow's "Endorsement" authors are qualified by Garrow as "best-selling", "world-renowned", etc.  I will let the reader use Google to determine the accuracy of Garrow's claims about these individuals.  Garrow's book is published by WND Books, described by an editorial in the UK's Guardian as ""a niche producer of rightwing conspiracy theories, religious books and 'family values' tracts."  WND Books describes itself as “'fiercely independent', telling the stories that other publishers won’t." The point is that the reader should get an idea of the religious and political circles Jim Garrow associates with -- the birds of a feather thing -- which may prove useful as one begins reading his book. 

Jim introduces us to his story by describing his great success in all things financial, and how this success brought him to China.  The book, he writes, is the story of how he came to save over 40,000 babies between 2000 and 2012.  When I interviewed him in 2008, Garrow claimed to have saved 24,000.  By 2009 it had apparently risen to 31,000 (p. 149), 2010 the number had climbed to 34,000 and now, in 2012, it stands at 40,000 (Pink Pagoda "Introduction").  In his introduction he also admits that many might call him a "human trafficker", an accusation he freely and enthusiastically embraces.

Thus begins the exciting story of Jim Garrow's start and work in baby trafficking inside China.  In the first chapter, he describes saving the baby niece of his Chinese employee, "Xinyi", whose husband wanted to "put aside" the child because she was a girl.  Jim sets the stage for the conflict that will run through the entire book -- the family was forced to take these actions because of Chinese laws -- evil laws -- which practically forced a family to have a boy.  "As Chinese law dictates, only a male heir can inherit family property and also provide for the parents' elder years."  One is left to question why the upper-middle class birth family of this child would worry about these issues, given their employment at a large U.S. firm and their patently upscale urban lifestyle.  It would also belabor the point to discuss whether this assessment of Chinese law is even accurate, but Jim uses this statement to set the stage for why China had "become a nation awash in grief over having to make such unthinkable choices."  Jim contrasts this evil with the work that he feels called to do, which he explains using Bible scripture uttered by Jesus himself.

Jim goes on to recount how he met with the father of the unwanted baby, who had a plan to bring the baby to the area Buddhist monks who were willing to dispatch the child for him.  They were willing to do this, it was explained to the incredulous Garrow, because the monks believed in reincarnation and thus believed the child would have a better life in the next cycle. 

The only solution the father would accept was for the child to find a new home outside China, a promise Jim made without knowing how he would fulfill it.  As I read this event that set Garrow on his mission, I found myself wondering if any stereotype of Chinese society had not been employed: the powerful husband and the submissive wife; the low societal and religious value placed on a girl's life; the smells and noises in the couple's apartment, the endless fear that neighbors would hear the conversation and report them to the authorities.  I of course can't say that what Jim describes is impossible, but I can just say that my experience in observing my wife's urban family and thousands of couples through my own travels in China gives me the feeling that I am watching a "predictable" movie.  Having located and interviewed many birth families of unregistered children, I have found the neighbors aware and accepting of the situation, even protective.  I have found wives of urban couples to be assertive and active participants in matters of family business.  I read Jim's account, and while possibly true, I find the lens through which he sees the event as Western, simplified, and largely unfamiliar. 

I got the same feeling while reading Jim's account of how he found a home for the unwanted baby.  He met an American expat living in China whose wife lived in the United States.  The man explained that they wanted to adopt, but that it seemed to take a long time to do the paperwork, etc.  Jim told him he could adopt right away.  Now, I'm sure that most readers familiar with  the adoption might at this point be wondering how in the world this adoption could be completed.  I will let Jim describe the process:

At this point, there were no documents to accompany the baby and her new parents back to the United States. Those I would discover in one of the best libraries in the world for doing such research—the local beer house, where expats hang out. It was in one of those pubs that I met my “librarians,” who even went so far as to share copies of the documents from their own Chinese adoption process. Paperwork aside, I also learned valuable information about the entire process and what pitfalls to hopefully avoid. I had moved at God’s bidding into the adoption business, and I planned to run that business as efficiently as I did my schools. God bless the fool with a big heart. (pp. 11-12)

No mention of the need for an I-600 (Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative); no consulate interview; it seems that all Jim had to do was produce some forged adoption documents and the U.S. government would issue the infant a visa.  The reader can decide how authentic Jim's account feels.

Jim also spends a lot of time reminding his readers of his stature, both financial and otherwise, in China.  He writes about his fancy car, his lush apartment, his ability to lavish financial gifts on those around him.  Two examples will serve to illustrate, but such examples could be multiplied many, many times.  In chapter 5 ("Walkabout") Jim recounts how he left his protective hotel to take a walk in the "other China".  He abandoned his "car and driver" to walk around Chongqing's poorer neighborhoods.  He gets lost, asks some kids where the nearest McDonalds was, and was escorted by fifteen street children there.  Jim then describes his arrival at the eatery:

The white-gloved gatekeeper greeted us at the door, and as she stared suspiciously at the boisterous group of children surrounding me, she asked in perfect English,
“How can I help you?”
I responded with the universal language: money. In China the currency is called renminbi. The slang expression is kwai. Think dollars and bucks. I handed her the equivalent of $140.00 to cover the cost of whatever the children wanted to eat. That $140.00 was equivalent to one month’s salary for the manager, and she knew that she could expect a very large tip for putting up with this ragtag group.

Another example of Jim's larges is recounted in chapter 7 ("The Pink Pagoda is Born"), where Jim describes what allowed him to be successful (and protected) inside China:

Back in China, I cut a major figure with my posh penthouse, Mercedes sedan, chauffeur, and money that I could spend as I chose. That ability to spend and transfer money was tied to my special red-and-gold foreign experts license, a document rarely accorded someone who wasn’t Chinese. Not only does that gold-embossed “passport” allow one to move money about without restrictions; it also protects the bearer from any kind of harassment at airports and the like. That document was always tucked into one of the pockets in my signature Tilley vest; that is still true here in Canada. I never leave home without it. One might be curious how I managed to get such a document. Think back to 2000, and that special student in my class at Shaw College in Canada. That special student is the one who invited me to come to China the first time, and who introduced me to the inner circles of connected, powerful people, including her uncle, Hu Jintao. No more needs to be said. (p.37)

Jim also recounts in nearly every chapter how much respect and reverence he experienced from the Chinese people themselves.  When a stranger mysteriously shows up in a Chongqing coffee house, he inexplicably says that Jim would make Dr. Bethune proud.  Jim continues:   

Yoda’s reference to Dr. Bethune was not the first time I had heard that comparison. Since my first trip to China, people had told me outright that they believed I was the reincarnation of the revered doctor who revolutionized medical procedures during the Second Sino-Japanese War. For Americans who might not recognize his name, the term MASH is certainly a famous acronym, and it was Dr. Bethune, a Canadian by birth, who developed the mobile medical units that were precursors of the MASH (mobile army surgical hospital) units instituted in 1945, after his death. Bethune’s mobile units, along with the MASH units that followed, were responsible for saving so many lives during the wars of his century, worldwide. The Bethune Institute was and is a paean to his legacy, which in some nearly inexplicable way, I have inherited. Using his name wasn’t so much a strategic move on my part as it was a dynamic, spiritual one. (p.53)

Earlier, Jim recounts this statement by one of his employees:  “I personally believe that Dr. Jim is the reincarnation of a saint, maybe Dr. Bethune, and I’m not alone in that belief. The Chinese people who come in contact with him believe that too. Even people who haven’t met him but who have heard about him speak his name with genuine reverence.” (p. 29)  It should be noted that Jim Garrow is not a "Dr." in any real sense, but the recipient of an honorary degree from a religious college.  He received that degree in 2008, long after the events recounted here, so this statement by his employee contains an anachronistic problem. 

This idea constitutes the second over-arching motif one sees in the the book: First, that Jim makes, and always has made, large amounts of money, and dispenses it like water.  Second, that he is comparable to the spiritual giants -- New Testament passages can be applied to him, others recognize his spiritual greatness as he walks down the street.  The couple that adopted Jim's first rescue, for example, observed: "But clearly, and I saw that for myself in China, everybody seemed to know who you were. Even walking down the street, Chinese people, even monks, just looked at you, and tried not to crowd you. I don’t know exactly what that was all about, but you definitely had presence and respect."

By chapter 13 ("The Great Wailing Wall") the feeling that I was reading a work of fiction became overpowering.  The accumulation of the bravado, the implausible episodes of meeting "Yoda", who would literally appear and disappear at will, and who was supposed to be a member of China's "KGB", left me believing that Jim was weaving a fantasy tale that incorporated every Western impression of China and her people.  Too much of what I read contradicted what I had myself experienced on my trips to China.  But, I kept thinking, "Perhaps I don't walk in the same circles as Jim.  Perhaps what he describes could have happened."  That possibility was shattered in chapter 13 of Jim's book, "The Great Wailing Wall".

Jim starts this chapter with "Yoda", his secret Chinese army intelligence benefactor, telling Jim he had arranged a trip for him to learn an important lesson.  "Dr. Garrow," explained Yoda's two associates, "we are going to show you something which may shock you, but it will give you an understanding of what we Chinese think and where we come from.”  Jim goes on to matter-of-factually state that "We headed for Yunnan province, about two hours from the city of Kunming."  Jim presents this as a "day trip", which struck me as odd given that Kunming is over a thousand kilometers from Chongqing.  Distance aside, Jim recounts how he was brought to a Buddhist temple outside Kunming, and given over to two monks who escorted Jim on a walk.

More stairs, but this time leading down toward a small valley. These stairs were made of wood, and not nearly so wide as their marble counterparts.

More stairs to the right, then to the left; then we reached a steep, rough terrain, which we proceeded to climb. At the top, I was looking across a valley about five hundred yards wide. It wasn’t a deep valley, and I could see across to a meandering wall that looked something like a miniature version of the Great Wall.

I felt sure that this part of the temple grounds was not part of the usual tour, and I could not imagine why I was being brought here.

At this point, the monks motioned me to move ahead on my own, so I walked toward the wall. From a distance, I thought I was looking at bundles of wood stacked neatly up to the point of a narrow pagoda-style roof, presumably to keep the wood safe from rain. Overall, I took the wall to be about one hundred feet long and about five feet high. As I got closer still, it looked as though the bundles had been wrapped in very elaborately embroidered brocade, mostly red backgrounds with brightly colored embellishments. The bundles at the top were still vividly colored, but as my eyes moved toward the bottom of the wall, the bundles were more faded and tattered.

I was now directly in front of the wall, and close enough to touch the packages if I wanted to. I didn’t; I couldn’t.

My arms hung limply at my sides, and it felt as if all the air in my lungs had been sucked out of me. I don’t remember for certain if I said anything. If I did, it would have been, “Oh, my God.”

Jim discloses that he was looking at a wall comprised of hundreds upon hundreds of infant bodies, all wrapped in Buddhist ceremonial fabrics, stacked one upon another.  Again, Garrow provides no clues with which to test the veracity of this statement, and its purpose seems designed to re-enforce the Western view that the Chinese kill their unwanted daughter's wholesale, against all verifiable evidence to the contrary.  (For a short overview of different "Blood Libel" accusations in history, read "Fetus Food: Another Urban Legend Busted", eSkeptic, March 21, 2012).

Adoptive families from China will no doubt be interested in knowing what his book says about his work to bring unwanted babies into China's orphanages in order for them to be adopted internationally.  While he is quite outspoken in private conversations and correspondence about the destination of most of the children he has supposedly rescued, the book is almost completely silent about his interactions with China's orphanages.  He does recount one story involving Yoda, his protective intelligence officer, and an orphanage in Chongqing Municipality. Yoda learned that this unnamed orphanage had been accepting infant girls, only to turn around and sell them to sex traders, who would apparently raise the children for 15 years before using them in the sex trade.  One can of course question the financial and logistical logic behind such scheme, but what is interesting to read in Jim's book is how Yoda handled it (remembering that Yoda is all powerful):

"Of course, I heard about it later; and once again, I did not ask for particulars. In one day, the entire orphanage was closed, and all of its people gone. When I say gone, I mean they permanently disappeared. An angry Yoda was like the sword of the Lord, smiting all who were sinners. These people were the worst of sinners, and no one, including me, ever asked what happened to them. The babies and children were saved. That was the only justice to focus on." (p. 82)

Another episode ends similarly, when one of Garrow's infants is kidnapped (I am not making this up) by Chinese gangs.  Three days later, Yoda, using his extensive network of the Chinese underworld, retrieves the child.

"First, [Yoda] brought in the proverbial big guns to squelch any grumblings in the town. Along with the big guns came lots of cash to everyone who might pose a problem, including the parents, both adoptive and birth. Then Yoda put out the word through everyone who at any level had any dealings with our operation.  “If you ever do such a thing again, if you steal one of our children or cause the death of anyone in our organization, you will be dead. Not just you, but everyone in your family and everyone you know.”  Those were not idle words. And to our staff: “If they use a knife on you, use a gun on them. If they use a gun . . .” And the escalation would have no limits.  Nor did Yoda’s controlled and focused rage have any limits. Various newspapers picked up the story, and certainly helped to spread Yoda’s “good word.” (p. 110-111)

As I stated, Garrow mentions no particulars about this orphanage, or any of his other stories.  But being familiar with all of the orphanages in Chongqing, I can attest that none of them have "disappeared".  Orphanages have closed, but we are still in contact with the directors and other employees. 

Garrow does recount a few adoptions into the U.S. (but not Canada), but even these experiences lack the "ring of truth" for those who have personally walked through the paperwork and logistical maze of U.S. Immigration procedures.  As I pointed out above, Garrow seems to maintain that all one needs to do to obtain a Chinese infant is to procure some forged adoption documents and show up at the U.S. border with child in hand.  He seems ignorant of, or completely ignores, the pre-adoption approvals required (I-600, CCAA approvals, etc.) to obtain an entry visa for the child to enter the U.S. 

What struck me as odd, however, was the nearly complete absence of any mention of Jim working with any of China's orphanages.  In fact, a reader of "The Pink Pagoda" would finish with the impression that nearly all of the unwanted children had been adopted inside China.  This impression runs completely contrary to what Jim told me and others in his interviews, in which he proudly boasted of working with four internationally adopting orphanages in Chongqing, from which he claimed that 80% of the children adopted came as a result of his work, and with hundreds of other such orphanages across China.  His website continues to encourage U.S. adoptive families to "ascertain if we have been part of the process of saving your babies in China."  Although in his book he claims that his first "save" was in 2000 (which he also confirmed in other interviews, including mine), he recently responded to a family with children adopted in the late 1990s from Anhui and Jiangxi  Provinces thusly:  "To be quite frank our work encompassed so many of the children rescued in the late 90's and up until recent days that there is a real possibility that your daughters were handled by our folks."  He continued to contradict previous interviews and his own book by stating: "We never placed any children in orphanages after 2000. All the babies from then on with only a few exceptions were adopted internally by barren Chinese couples."  It seems that Jim's story constantly changes depending on whom he is addressing.

The overall issue with Jim's book is that he provides no specific names, places, or events with which to confirm his story, from the "Xinyi" episode at the start, to his nomination for a Noble Peace Prize in 2009 at the end.  In that episode an anonymous Chinese official asks Jim for permission to nominate him for the Peace Prize.  There is no name of this official to research.  Garrow goes on to say he was beaten for the Prize by President Obama, a man Garrow openly despises, and goes so far as to publish his letter of congratulations to the President.  Readers familiar with the nomination process will realize that thousands of members are on the nomination committee, and the winner is nominated by literally thousands of those members.  Nominees are not made known for 50 years, so we can't even determine if his nomination occurred.  However, one can see that even if Garrow's nomination by the nameless Chinese official were actual, Garrow would not have received anywhere near the votes to present any competition for President Obama or the other top contenders.  Thus, chapter 30 of his book, "The Nobel Peace Prize Scandal", in which he writes President Obama and states "We may have lost the Nobel Peace Prize to you, President Obama, but I believe that there is a higher purpose to every event in our lives" (p.149)  is without doubt one of the most brazen and unprovable assertions in the book.  And that is saying a lot.

In the end Garrow's story will be like those of other religious "prophets" to whom God has supposedly spoken:  Outsiders will be able to point out inconsistencies, attack the veracity of the details, and question the validity of the events recounted.  But believers in Jim's story will discount such problems, and insist that since such issues can't be totally disproved, they could be true. Thus, Garrow's story will be viewed as "a story told from a dream" by those who see it skeptically, but as the work of God by those who share Garrow's faith in "saving" children from China.