Adoption in China

Yujiang in July 2002

As our Chinese friends tell the story, a US couple flew to Jiangxi Province in the early half of 2002 to adopt a baby.They brought friends or family, who, according to the story, took unflattering photographs of the orphanage (i.e., their garbage) for US publication.The Chinese federal government was embarrassed and decided to bar adopting families from visiting any orphanages nationwide.

Thus, when we arrived in the provincial capital, Nanchang, my wife and I were not allowed to visit our daughter�s orphanage in tiny Yujiang.We�d never see the inside of the place that sheltered Melody for her first nine months.

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!�My, how China has changed.

There were almost no traffic lights or stop signs anywhere (which we were also amazed to find true in Nanchang, a capital of four million people).Mayhem ruled the day.We swerved through the frightening traffic, dodging constant near-misses.Our guide grinned and suggested, �Just look the other way.He�s a good driver.Trust him.�We had little option.

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 Gary from our group revealed a package of Starburst fruit candies and passed them out to the gleeful children.That broke the ice.Soon we began speaking with them as our guide translated.

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 Mexico and south Texas:shaped like a cross, the three-story nave buttressed outside, a simply decorated interior, and clearly Catholic.A pleasant young man stepped out and introduced himself as the pastor.He spoke no English, but he told our guide that it was built in the early �20s and has a congregation of about 40.He brought us inside.The children and many adults followed us out of the summer heat.A few paused at the altar to cross themselves.We photographed and talked with everyone we could, and each donated some cash before leaving.

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 America instead.

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