One of the main reasons for my family going to China for three months was to bring my two daughters back to the land of their birth; a chance for them to experience it firsthand. The latest trend in international adoptions is “homeland visits.” Parents are encouraged to take their adopted daughters on a two week tour of China, culminating in a trip to the child’s orphanage. It’s definitely a worthy idea (and a smart way for the adoption industry to make a bit more cash), but my wife and I have always felt that to take your kid from the suburban splendours of North America head-first into the urban sprawl that is modern China would be a little too mind-blowing for even the most prepared and sophisticated child. So when we were offered an opportunity to spend three months living in a small city in China, which would give this homeland visit a bit of context, we jumped at it. We thought that the experience of walking into an orphanage and seeing a room full of squalling babies laid out in their cribs on wooden boards wouldn’t be as traumatic for our daughters if they had a better sense of the difference between living conditions in China and those in the West. We were wrong, of course.
A Few Bags of Grain comes specifically out of that experience – of returning to the girl’s orphanages. We always talk about the birth-mother in the adoption stories that we are told to tell our kids, but I don’t think we are capable of truly representing her. We usually portray her as a stereotype – a tragic, romantic figure. We also talk about abandonment in these stories, but what do most of us truly know and understand about abandonment? Returning to the birth towns and the orphanages was an awakening for us as parents and a life-altering experience for, at least, my eldest daughter (who had just turned eleven). When we began the journey, my wife and I had no idea what were heading in to. My daughter, on the other hand, seemed to have a much deeper understanding of what lay ahead. As we were, literally, stepping out of our apartment to head off on this journey, she pulled us aside and out-of-the-blue said, “OK…I’ll go to the orphanage, but I don’t want to go to the place where I was found…”. She already knew what this trip was really about and what it was that she was going to have to face.
The song is about the “worthlessness of girl,” an attitude that exists not just in China, but all around the globe and shows itself in different ways. And, it’s about, that worn old saw, the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
Here is a video taken inside one of my daughter’s orphanages. Don’t watch this if you are in a public place, unless, of course, you don’t mind bawling in public.
If you’d like to catch up on some past blogs about the Renmin Park album, just click on a link: