Yujiang in July 2002
As our Chinese friends tell the
Thus, when we arrived in the
Determined to learn what her hometown looks like anyway, four from our adoption group�only I and three other fathers wanted to go�persuaded our guide to help us hire a small van one morning and take us to the town, knowing that the orphanage itself was off-limits.
The roads were predictably terrible, alternately smooth and then rocky with pot-holes or completely unpaved, especially in the small towns and on the most rural roads.� Bikes streamed down the �highway,� and we paused at a toll plaza every several miles.� Farms were destitute�yet the terrain was beautiful.� Water buffalo pulled ploughs through lush, green rice paddies, while small beasts wandered the road.� Sometimes our driver dodged them.� Once he hit a duck, killing it quickly.� Mountains loomed in the distance, but the farms in the immediate vicinity were relatively flat with undulating hills nearby.� The farm houses themselves were dilapidated and trashy with residents apparently living on well water.� I wondered who had electricity and who didn�t.
Three hours went by, as we
periodically drove through small towns of a few hundred people, where we slowed
down to dodge carts, bikes, and pedestrians.�
Main streets were lined with two- or three-story buildings and countless
tiny shops.� We passed under a large
banner with big red Chinese characters.�
Was it some communist slogan?� Our
guide laughed, �It�s an ad for a beer!��
There were almost no traffic lights
or stop signs anywhere (which we were also amazed to find true in
We finally pulled into an ordinary town.� �This is it,� our guide told us.� We scrambled for our cameras and peered out the windows.
Yujiang is small�there must be fewer than a thousand residents.� It looked to be stuck in time; no apparent growth or diminishment.� There are two main streets in the town forming a T, and we parked at the main crossroad.
Our group climbed out of the van and stepped into the hot street.� It looked like any other town we bypassed: poor, dusty, lined with three-story buildings and tiny shops, filled with carts and bikes (rarely cars)�and smiles.� No doubt our driver wondered why we came to such a forgotten village.
Not surprisingly, four rich Americans with shiny cameras stopped traffic.� We were an instant hit.� Indeed, it seemed from the local reaction that we were the first outsiders to visit.� In no time, villagers began following us down the road, at first just pointing and talking.� Our guide grinned and translated: �He�s so tall!�� �Are they Americans?�� They seemed intrigued and even happy to see us.� Some left their shops or stopped in the road to stare or follow us.� Children gathered from everywhere.� We smiled and photographed them.� A wirey-haired dog snarled at us, causing us to jump sky-high with surprise and sending the locals roaring with laughter.
At one point, our guide stopped.� �There,� she said.� �up that road.� That�s where the orphanage is.�� She apologized again for us not being able to go there.� We longed to continue, but we knew we couldn�t visit the orphanage, and our itinerary demanded our return.� So after a few more photos, we turned back to find our van.
A crowd of curious children had
encircled us, with adults around the perimeter.�
We stood in the middle of the street as they giggled and pointed.� We took pictures and waved.� Nobody knew quite what to do until
A 12-year-old girl in a simple yellow dress shyly stepped forward and said something in Chinese.� �She wants to practice her English with you,� said our guide.� I grinned and knelt down.
�What�is�your�name?� this slender girl said almost inaudibly, yet with very little accent.
�My name is Robert.� I replied.� The kids giggled and the parents whispered to each other.
�I am 39.�� The crowd erupted with laughter.� In no time, we were talking, laughing, touching, and communicating in any way we could.� Andy from our group filmed the kids with his digital camcorder and then let the kids review the video.� Some children were too timid to approach us; others were clearly �class clowns� and mugged for the cameras.� By my count, there were just as many girls as boys.
We reluctantly began walking toward the van, having such limited time to visit.� As we proceeded up the street, the kids played around us, and adults followed curiously.� Old men grinned three-tooth grins, raising a hand in greeting.� Our guide leaned toward me, �They think you�re just tourists.� They don�t know or understand about the adoptions.�� In this tiny town, so much of the world is unknown to them.� Apparently, they assume that the children in that orphanage will be taken care of by the state or adopted out to Chinese families in the big city.
Then an old man stepped forward with his hands clasped, as if in prayer.� Apparently, he was some town elder, and he spoke to our guide.� �He wants to know if you�d like to see their church.�
�Church?� we asked in
astonishment.� �Sure!�� We were led behind some buildings (large
enough to block a view from the main street) to a good-sized church�large
enough to seat at least a hundred, though lacking enough pews in the half-empty
sanctuary.� It reminded me of Spanish
mission churches in
Outside, the priest pointed to what was a school, but is now crumbling housing.� On the other side of the church, he discussed a dirty, empty building he wanted to convert to an education building, but there is no funding.� The kids continued to play and �pose� for the cameras (i.e., stick out their tongues, giggle, flash the peace sign, etc.).� We brainstormed about how to help this church when we return to the States.
Finally, we had to leave.� Everyone followed us back to the van, and we began to say our good-byes.� The minister finally said his first (and last) words of English:� �God be with you.�� We shook hands.� The town elder continued bowing and grinning, his frail hand shaking ours with enthusiasm.� The kids waved good-bye as the van pulled away.
On the long road home, I thought a
lot about my daughter, Melody, and the possibility of her growing up among
those impoverished yet hopeful people.�
Although she�s almost certainly from a nearby farm rather than the town,
I can now imagine her mingling with our gracious hosts�perhaps someday practicing
her English with a visitor.� But I was
blessed to take her to
Any other families with more information on this orphanage or who would like to post a picture or e-mail address please e-mail me at email@example.com.