Love Knows No Borders

The families have only two required tasks during the four days in Guangzhou: an oath to certify that all documents submitted to the U.S. consulate are true, and a medical examination of their adopted baby. As they pass in front of a school, Olivia’s eyes move to the sound of children playing and she slaps her hands against Laurel’s arms. Paul moves close and she grabs at his cheeks. “Why don’t you stand by that tree over there and I’ll take a picture,” Paul suggests.

Laurel backs up against the trunk of a stately old oak and smiles, but Olivia is looking elsewhere, distracted by the soft sounds of a warm afternoon.

“Olivia!” Paul calls gently. “Olivia, look over here!”

“Olivia, look over at Daddy,” Laurel says as she turns her body to accommodate Olivia’s shifted attention.

“Look at me, Olivia,” Paul says. “Look at Daddy!”

CERTIFICATE OF ABANDONMENT

(translation)

Luo Yaqun, female, born on Oct. 30, 2003, was found to be abandoned at the gate of Xiangyin County Relief Center on Nov. 10, 2003. She was taken to Xiangyin County Social Welfare Children Institute by the Jiangdon Police Station of Xiangyin County on Nov. 10, 2003, and was raised by our Institute, her biological parents and relatives have not been found so far.

Xiangyin County Social Children Welfare Institute

Nov. 22, 2004

The streets of Olivia Ya Qun Stueber’s birth city are not clean or orderly. They rise and fall, but the topography is a mystery revealed only by turning corners around two- and three-story concrete buildings that line the narrow thoroughfares. Trash litters streets and sidewalks, spilled from open storefronts and second-story windows. Yet the streets themselves are new, well paved, and painted with bright yellow lines. Trucks loaded with produce, livestock, and construction equipment press against the thrust of pedestrians and bicycles that jam the intersections. Motorcycles zip through open spaces, exhaust trailing.

Like most of China’s small towns, Xiangyin is a poor place. There is no neon downtown, no pedestrian shopping street. Instead, in front of a shuttered shop is a pool table, awaiting players. Small tables are set next to open doors where young men in dusty three-piece suits hunch over bowls of noodles. Occasionally, they might look up at the proud stride of a young woman, leather coat tight to her torso, talking on a cell phone. Farther along, she might stop to chat with other young women, just as proud, just as busy.

The Xiangyin County Relief Center stands behind a masonry wall that opens onto a construction site. A three-story brick building rises behind scaffolding, and behind it is a terraced three-story building covered with steel bars. The driveway into the site is attended by three women on three wooden chairs: one knitting, one holding an infant, and one telling a story. So far as anyone knows, they are sitting where Olivia Ya Qun Stueber was abandoned on November 10, 2003. According to Dr. Yu, vice-director of the orphanage where Ya Qun spent her first year, it is a common abandonment site. “The baby would have been found very quickly,” she explains as she steps out of a van packed with parents and their adopted children. “The mother probably stayed and watched.”

Laurel steps out of the van with Ya Qun holding to the collar of her red V-neck sweater. She looks carefully in all directions. Paul follows with his camera and asks Laurel to stand in front of the red sign that identifies the site. A crowd of locals surrounds them. Shirley stands back and watches with a patient smile. “She was probably left in a basket,” she says. “Like that,” and she nods at a bicycle passing with a basket full of carrots attached to the back fender.

The Stuebers return to the bus followed by Dr. Yu and Shirley. The group visits two other sites. After each family has witnessed where their child was abandoned, the bus drives to the police station, where the abandoned children of Xiangyin are taken after being found. Everyone disembarks at the two-story white tile building. The first floor is a series of open storefronts, and in the middle is a gate hung with four dirty red lanterns. Through it, the families can see a courtyard, trees, and a complex of buildings. Meanwhile, an excited crowd is gathering on the other side of the driveway, pointing and whispering at the foreigners with Chinese babies.

Laurel returns to the bus with Olivia and converses with another mother about the upcoming fifteen-hour flight home. Olivia turns away from her mother and toward a group of seven women pointing at her from the other side of the driveway. They range in age from teens to late middle age, and one holds a baby. Olivia presses her left foot against the window and stares back. The women smile and point at her, but they will not come close to the bus, even though they are leaning toward it, tripping on each other to see the little girl in the window.

Shirley boards last, sits next to Dr. Yu, and the bus slowly begins to back into the street. Outside, the women look at each other with panic and then one of the younger ones breaks loose and dashes forward. When she reaches the window, she presses her hand to the glass at Olivia’s foot. The remaining women follow behind her. “Zàijiàn!” They call out as they reach the window. “Zàijiàn!” Behind them, men are laughing. “Zàijiàn!” They repeat as they follow the bus into the street. “Zàijiàn!” Then, as the bus stops to shift gears, they stop in front of the window and briefly speak English to Ya Qun, who is now smiling back at them. “Bye-bye,” they tell her. “Bye-bye! Bye-bye!”

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