Articles & Stories about Life in China
Our World, Our Dream
It was the eighth day of the eighth month of the year 2008, a very important day in our household. Jade, our three and a half year old daughter, whom we had adopted from China, was giddy with excitement. She proudly sported her bright orange Yingying “Friendly” t-shirt and toted around her stuffed “Friendly”, Jingjing. I had purchased Jingjing in the Guangzhou airport in 2006 on our way home with our new daughter. I had no idea what the adorable panda with the bizarre headdress meant, other than the fact that he was one of the mascots or "Friendlies" for the upcoming Olympics to be held in Beijing. I stuffed Jingjing in my already overcrowded carry-on bag, yearning to take every last piece of my daughter’s native land home with us. I knew the culture shock was going to be difficult for Jade, as she was already a walking, talking toddler, not a baby. She was already an individual, with her own personality and idiosyncrasies. More importantly, she was already a Chinese person, and it was going to be part of my duty as her mother to honor her heritage.
So, on the night of 08/08/08, our small family of three huddled together in front of the television, in anticipation of the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. Jade was even more elated that this special occasion had allowed her to stay up hours past her routine bedtime. Fondly reliving his time working in Beijing, my husband pointed out his favorite landmarks, as the camera offered a preview of a city ready to explode with pride over the spectacle they were about to place at the world’s doorstep. I held Jade’s hand, every once in a while reminding her that Mommy and Daddy had traveled all the way to China, just to adopt the best little girl in the universe. “I know,” she gurgled in response, her mouth full of laughter.
And then it started. 91,000 spectators sat at attention in the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, as 2,008 Fou Drummers performed on a backdrop of a giant LED paper scroll. My jaw dropped, as I witnessed the perfect synchronization of a country ready to stick out their chins and unleash their carefully guarded power on the world. “The drummers were told to smile,” the commentator informed a shocked American television audience. “In the dress rehearsal, the director decided that the performers looked too intimidating, so they were all instructed to smile.” Little did they know that those perfectly pasted smiles would scare an already insecure world more than any grimace ever could. In perfect formation, the drummers lit their drums to collectively form digits, both in Arabic and Chinese numerals, to countdown the final seconds to the Games, 8pm local time, on 08/08/08. I glanced over at my husband to witness his “I told you so” smile, while Jade jumped up and down, applauding in excitement.
Unable to look away for even an instant, our multi-cultural family witnessed fireworks, flying fairies, and human paintbrushes creating art on a giant scroll of white canvas paper. Chinese history was glorified with the appearance of terracotta soldiers and a Beijing Opera reenactment. 2,008 Tai Chi masters in white performed with super-human fluidity, as they demonstrated on command their perfect harmony with nature. Brightly colored lights created flying birds to symbolize the rebirth of the phoenix, while the subsequent segment depicted the arrival of the modern astronaught. A 60-foot, 16-ton ball structure emerged to represent the Earth and to provide 58 acrobats a platform to tumble in every direction on its rounded surface. Gasps of awe reverberated throughout the Bird’s Nest, as the ball was suddenly transformed into a Chinese red lantern. Tears poured down my cheeks, as Sarah Brightman and Liu Huan sang the 2008 Olympic theme song, “You and Me”, while 2,008 performers held out parasols with smiling faces of young children.
As the grand opening led into the Parade of Nations, I finally unglued my astonished eyes from the television screen and turned to find the peaceful face of my own young Chinese child, curled up asleep between my husband and I, her two pillars of protection against a sometimes harsh world of judgments. Together, we gently scooped Jade up and tucked her innocence into the crowded bed in her room. We moved aside countless favorite toys and clothes to find a tiny space for her to rest amongst her belongings. In the beginning, I had tried to convince her to keep a neat bed, but quickly learned that the pathology ran too deep to instantly reverse. In the Chinese orphanage, where she spent the first 22 months of her life, she had been forced to share everything – her toys, her clothes. Nothing had every really belonged to her, until we came along. And now, she was convinced she still had to keep her belongings close to her, or they would be taken away. A quick routine inspection under her bed that night revealed a cup of water and a half-eaten snack. She also had learned early on that food was scarce, so she snuck food and drink into her room, hording it for some anticipated famine.
My tear stained cheeks guiltily welcomed more tears; this time, tears of heartbreak over what my daughter had endured. As I lay in my own American bed that night I struggled with an onslaught of conflicting emotions. There was sadness, of course, for my daughter’s past. Jade had been abandoned when she was five days old at the entrance to a hospital. I assumed that her birth parents had felt forced to abandon their baby girl in the midst of a “One Child” policy and a culture that covets male children to carry on the family name and care for the parents in old age. Then Jade had been diagnosed with congenital heart disease, which deemed her “special needs” and meant that she would need to spend even longer in the orphanage before she would be released for adoption. How difficult her existence there must have been.
Then the anger came, as boiling tears burnt my already raw cheeks. Where had the government been? Where were all of those perfectly centered souls when my daughter was crying out in the night, cold and hungry? Why couldn’t the Chinese government have taken the $100 million dollars it had cost to produce that elaborate Opening Ceremony and given it to those starving orphans? Why couldn’t those 15,000 Chinese performers band together to synchronize a relief effort for their own?
“One World, One Dream” – that was the theme, but that spectacle wasn’t my dream - no matter how proud I felt when those drummers performed with perfect precision. Yes, I had been proud - proud to say that my daughter had descended from such perfection and grace! But, what now? How could I teach my daughter to be proud of her birth country, when I felt such ambivalence?
As I cried in the dark, I realized that the Opening Ceremony had also been filled with children. Their innocent faces flashed behind my eyelids, as I struggled to force out the perfectly synchronized demons haunting my reasoning. Those children had no choice in how that money was spent. They had no vote, no voice. They were innocent, just like our American children. I had to, therefore, believe that China was filled with adults who were also innocent, who had no voice. They were not to blame for how their leaders chose to govern; any more than we, Americans, are to blame for the mistakes of our leaders. I would shutter for the world to think that my president’s choices had been my choices. Sometimes they had been, but usually they had not. How dangerous it is to begin lumping people into categories. “Those Chinese are all about appearances.” “Those Americans are all wasteful.” “Those blacks….” “Those whites…” “Those Jews…” “Those Christians…” Haven’t we learned anything from the past?
While my daughter faces a lifetime of struggles revolving around these issues, I vow to continue to teach her that she is a gift to the world, just as each child is. Our world’s children grow into our world’s adults, who have the power to enact great changes in our often apathetic world. As Jade grows into her role, I pray that she will become an example of a creation that crosses all borders. “One World, One Dream”. The Chinese had the right idea. There is no “them” versus “us”, just “we” Now it is up to us ALL to make that theme our reality, one innocent child of the world at a time. WE will get there.
Meet Cathy, an award winning freelance writer