Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fun Few Days!

We've had a great past few days.  On Friday we left Wuhan.  It was sad to leave Conner’s hometown and sad to leave our WONDERFUL guide, Joanna.  She did a great job navigating us through all of the necessary paperwork and became a good friend.  We hope to be able to keep in touch with her and meet up some time in the future J.

Saturday, Christi took Conner for his medical exam (poor guy had to get four shots L) and did the final adoption paperwork with our guide, Jason.  This is the fourth time we have had Jason as our CCAI guide in Guangzhou.  He has also become a friend to our family.  For some reason he no longer seems to believe us when we tell him this is our last trip….  It turned out to be a crazy stormy day, so we just stayed in the hotel for the most part.  Graci, Cali and Conner watched some Chinese TV shows.  Taylor and Parker found the NBA playoffs, although it was a different experience watching them with Cantonese commentators.  

Sunday we walked over to a beautiful nearby park.  It’s a large park with thousands of people there at any given time.  While we were strolling along a teenage girl became quite taken with Taylor.  She bravely approached him and asked if she could take a picture.  Taylor was flattered.  We took a ride on some paddle boats.  At the end of our hour, we decided to race back.  Taylor, Christi and Conner had a head start on the rest of us in the other boat, but Christi somehow managed to dump the boat’s life preserver rings in the lake and they had to spend the next 20 minutes slowly circling around and trying to collect them.  Score one for Dad’s crew!  In the evening we visited our beloved Shamian Island.  This is where we stayed during our first four trips to Guangzhou.  The White Swan hotel is still being renovated, but much closer to completion than it was when we visited in 2012.  We've become regular enough visitors that two of the shopkeepers on the island remember us when we pass through.  We had a dinner at Lucy’s, and Christi ordered her favorite peppered spaghetti dish.  It’s amazing how much of a tradition some things about this trip have become.  Really, since the beginning of 2007, we've only had one fewer trip to China than we've had Christmases!  No wonder we've developed deep ties to some things over here!

On Monday we did something new.  We visited the ChimeLong Paradise amusement park.  This is a six-flags type park about an hour taxi ride from our hotel.  They have a few very spectacular rides, including a roller coaster that claims to have one of the highest drops in the world.  It was AWESOME!!!  It was the first ride of the day for us and Conner’s first roller coaster ever.  When the ride came to a stop, Christi couldn't pry his fingers away from the bar he was holding on to.  Scared him silly, but he loved it and kept wanting more.  Another coaster had 10 inversions, including a four-in-a-row corkscrew.  Way fun.  Another adoptive family came with us on this day.  They have been living in China for two years and they have a teenage daughter who has missed interaction with other teenage girls who speak her language.  She had a great time with Cali and Graci.  While at the park, Cali and Graci purchased the cutest little masks ever.  I have the cutest girls!!!  The only hitch in this day at the amusement park was the beginning.  With seven of us, we had to split up into two taxis.  They took us to different entrances at opposite ends of the park.  We couldn't use our phones to call each other and it took us just over an hour to finally meet up!  Oh well, it still turned out to be a great time.

To end our day we took a short river cruise on the Pearl River.  This is another tradition for us in Guangzhou.  The river is so beautiful at night.  The surrounding buildings, bridges and other boats are decorated in all kinds of lights.  It’s a really nice way to spend the evening. We brought some Papa John’s pizza on board and had a lot of fun.  The LeSuers, the other adoptive couple we met up with in Xi’an, came along with us and we were able to meet their beautiful new son, Caleb.  At one point in the evening, Christi and I got to spend a few moments alone on the upper, uncovered deck.  It was very romantic to be there with my sweetheart.  A perfect ending to a momentous trip together. 

Christi got on the plane home at 6 a.m. this morning.  It’s funny.  I often spend a night away for work.  I occasionally spend four or five nights away.  But it never feels as lonely as these trips to China when Christi leaves a couple of days before I do.  I don’t know if it’s because we’re brand new parents or because we’re continents away from each other or what.  But my heart truly breaks when I watch her taxi drive away.  I love you, sweetheart.  Here’s hoping you have a great sleep somewhere over the Pacific tonight!  (OK.  This is rather sappy, but true.  As I've been writing this post, I've been listening to a playlist on my phone.  Just as I started writing about how much I’m missing my honey, Maroon 5’s “Daylight” came on.  I mean, come on!  It’s a sign.  We were meant to be!!!  Love you, hon.  The song just ended and I started it again J.)

So on we go.  Conner and I went to the US Consulate today and I took the oath for him to get his immigrant visa.  We’ll receive the visa tomorrow and leave for Hangzhou.  I may not be able to post again until we get home.  If not, thanks for all of the love and support.  We continue to be amazed at the beautiful life we have been blessed with.  We’re excited for this next chapter to unfold.


Joanna with our family at the Wuhan airport

At the park across from our hotel

How could she NOT want this guy's picture?

At Lucy's Restaurant on Shamian Island

The Amusement Park

New friend

Graci and Cali with their cute masks!


Cali loves selfies :)

River cruise

Hey, we look OK for being the parents of 10 kids!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

To Dance For a Father

David and Kathi Peters are two wonderful people whom we have come to love over the past year and a half.  You may remember that they are working on a documentary about Chinese adoption and that our family will be part of that story.  They came out to Utah just prior to our trip to adopt Cali in 2012.  David was with us in Xi'an when we adopted Cali.  And David happened to be in Xi'an this past week when we went back to visit Cali's biological Grandma and aunt.  Besides making this documentary, they have been involved in the efforts of findMe International in making short film clips to share stories of kids in China who are waiting for families.  

With David's permission, I am re-posting something he wrote that pulled tremendously at my heartstrings as the father of many little girls:

To Dance for a Father

As little girls, my daughters loved to dance. To twirl, to curtsy, to giggle, to flirt. I remember looking on with a heart full of joy and amusement, a gaze I was sure warmed their hearts. They danced for their father. One they already had, one whose love would never waver, one whose heart they had won forever.

But imagine for a moment a young girl dancing for her father. But this time for one she didn’t know. One whose loving glance had never warmed her world, but one whose heart she just might have a chance to steal.

Let me tell you what happened yesterday. I was at the Xi’an orphanage creating short videos for findMe international to use as they advocate for older children about to age out of adoption. The sad truth is that once orphaned children reach age 14, they default to a massive subgroup called “third culture” Chinese. Invisible Children with no parents, no real family, just friends. I try to avoid thinking about birthdays, graduations and weddings for these young people.

Now a lot has changed in China and orphanages have come a long way by providing loving caregivers to raise these precious ones. But somehow it just can’t be the same as having your own family, I would imagine.

My job was to film interviews of each of the nine children brought to me by the adoption services director in hopes that through these video clips and the work of my friend Mike at findMe international, they will find families. 

Mixed emotions distract me as I unpack my gear. How is it that we live in a world where children need to “audition” for a family?

Reality show fans are very familiar with auditions. Young American Idol hopefuls do it for fame. Today, these children are doing it for families.

High stakes, if you ask me. Too high!

Early on in the filming a striking 12-year-old girl bravely stepped forward for her turn. Sheena, as I call her, was now granted the opportunity to make her “appearance.” You see, she knows that for kids like her there is a file folder tucked away in an office somewhere that bears her name and number. It contains a government style mug shot and a writeup that reads more like a tech journal than the story she wants the world to hear. 

But now she stands in front of my camera - her window to the world just opened. 

“Will anyone notice?”

Before I continue, let me explain why I call her Sheena. First it’s because her Chinese name is hard to spell and nearly impossible to say. Second, it just seems to fit. The sheen from her hair, her eyes and her heart captured mine. Also, you should know that Sheena is profoundly deaf. Hearing aids allow her somewhat of a normal life. But for some reason she didn’t have batteries for her devices today. An unwelcome quiet, I would imagine.

As the adoption services director asked her questions, she dutifully spoke and signed her answers. The grace and flow of her signing was beautiful, but still somehow I didn’t feel her “audition” was going so well. And I guess that makes sense. What person on the planet is optimized for these circumstances? 

But finally, our laundry list of questions led us to something…She could dance. 

I would imagine, for a 12-year-old orphan girl, escaping into the art of movement provided her oft’ needed solace. This made her unique, desirable…or so she may hope.

As a visual arts kind of guy, I immediately posed the question, “Will she dance for me?”

There was no hesitation. “Yes.” Her shyness held no sway over the dance within her. Earlier I had admired a nearby pond that was graced with a rather large rock formation jutting well into the air. Water was spraying forth in abstract patterns and directions. It cooled the air as well as providing a flowing rhythm of water drops dancing.

Right in front was an open area perfect for her “stage.”

I took my position and readied the camera. She walked confidently toward the pond and with her back toward me, struck her pose.

The “music” began. 

No, it wasn't from amps and loud speakers -- sounds she couldn't hear today anyway. It was music of a different sort, the soulful tune of a little girl dancing to win a father’s heart.

Music to my ears.

I wish I could read her mind. “How should I dance for my father? Do I smile? Do I give a girlish flirt? Do I swing my ponytail just so? Do I set aside my practiced routine and let the rhythm of my heart take over? I’m not sure. I just hope that he notices. I wonder what it’s like to have a father. To have him with pure hearted eyes gazing at my flowing movements, his thoughts filled with delight as he wishes for the best in the world to be my own.”

My daughters danced for me because of a love they knew. She danced for me for a love yet to be known.

As I jot down these thoughts, I’m aboard a shuttle heading to the Xi’an airport. I can’t seem to get Sheena -- or all the kids, for that matter -- out of my mind. Somehow I’m thinking there’s a father out there who will someday ride this same shuttle with this dancing girl beside him.

There sure seems to be plenty of open seats.

by David Peters

Saturday, April 26, 2014


It's been a very good trip so far.  The kids are having fun.  They love the breakfasts and the pools.  They are having fun feeling grown up in their own hotel rooms. (We had three rooms in Wuhan!)  They've been great travelers.  Conner is as happy as a clam all the time.  He loves having a family.  There has really only been one thing that has been fairly difficult:  the lack of empathy and services for those with disabilities in China.
Cali has grown accustomed to the way she is treated at home.  Care and love and a desire to help from family and friends at school at church.  I have a renewed gratitude for the way in which the Americans with Disabilities Act helps to provide dignity and accessibility to those whose physical bodies have added challenges.  Unfortunately, things are a bit different here.  Cali has had to deal with an almost endless barrage of intent stares.  People do not hesitate to point, discuss, even follow us for blocks and blocks as we walk, curious about our rather unique group.  It’s been an emotionally difficult experience for Cali.  On top of that, the accessibility issues abound.  There are rarely ramps, and when there are they are often ridiculously steep.  Many of the public areas have no elevators.  She has had to be lifted up many flights of stairs, either piggy back on me or by having three people lift the chair with her in it.  This is truly not an attempt to knock on our beloved China.  I’m merely trying to describe some of the difficulties we've had.
The only times I've given in to stress or frustration on this trip have had to do with these accessibility issues.  Primarily at the airports.  The fact that Cali’s wheelchair doesn't fold just about kept us off of one of our flights.  At one airport, they required Cali to be wheeled through a completely separate security area without any of us with her.  All alone with one, male airport security person wheeling the airport-supplied chair.  She didn't meet up with us again all the way to the actual gate.  She was terrified.  Poor girl!  They don’t have the wheelchairs that fit down the airplane aisles at most airports in China.  Therefore, they wheel her to the door of the plane, and then I carry her to her seat.  That’s fine, honestly.  I feel it a privilege to serve my little princess.  Last night we were in row 50, so it was a lengthy carry down the tight aisle.  And as I mentioned in an earlier post, my back has been having some significant issues.  Once we landed, I carried her back to the door of the plane.  Here a young man informed me that I would have to continue to carry her up through the jetway and who knows how much farther.  We would meet the airport wheelchair somewhere along the way.  Obviously the language barrier made it harder to get a clear understanding of what was going on.  
I protested.  While one can see why you can’t wheel her down the very narrow aisle of a plane, why in the world couldn't we get a wheelchair into the very wide jetway.  While I kept what I actually said in check, my tone of voice and the glare from my eyes communicated an extreme displeasure to the poor young man delivering the message.  He explained that it was because we were at the international terminal.  Again, the language barrier made it more difficult to get the entire message across.  Again, I wondered, “who cares what terminal it is?  This jetway is eight feet wide!  Get us a wheelchair!” And the daggers in my glare did not decrease.  I finally gave up hope and started carrying her down the jetway.  It was a long one, and after a couple of turns, it became evident why the young man said we couldn't get a wheelchair.  Because it was the international terminal, they weren't letting passengers from our domestic flight directly into the terminal.  We were diverted down onto the tarmac via a long flight of steps.  At the bottom of the steps a shuttle would take us to the domestic terminal.  I carried Cali down the steps and the same sweet young man let me know that the wheelchair was being driven out to us on the tarmac.  We would wait at the bottom of the stairs.
We ended up waiting there for about 15 minutes.  The young man repeatedly apologized to us for the inconvenience.  By this time, my frustration had passed and I felt genuinely sorry for being a grouch.  I kept a big smile on my face and made a point of thanking the young man for helping us and staying with us.  At one point, Parker came up to Christi and me and said, “That guy who’s helping us just looks like a good guy, doesn't he?  He looks like a missionary.”  My guilt expanded rapidly.  I looked at the young man and reflected on what Parker had said.  Park was right.  This young man had a light about him.  A genuine goodness.  I continued to talk to him and be sweet and kind with both him and the kids.  Finally our shuttle came.  It was a huge shuttle bus, designed to hold over 100 people.  Tonight, it was just for us J.  Christi, Cali and I were up at the front with our young helper.  The other kids went to the few seats in the back and spread out.  We talked to each other.  We laughed.  We had fun.  We made the best of a long evening.  At one point, Conner began singing Doe-a-Deer, which we didn't even know he was familiar with.  I jumped in with him and suddenly all of us (except Cali) sang the entire chorus.  (When we were done, Cali looked up at me and said, “I don’t know you!”)
The shuttle finally pulled up to the terminal.  As we stepped off and headed inside, this sweet young man turned to me and said, “I think you are a good father.  Your family makes me feel warm.”  I was humbled.  So humbled.  This young man had seen and felt the light of Christ through our sweet and wonderful children.  In spite of their flawed and fumbling father, through their actions and interactions the rest of my family had shared their testimony of the Savior and what He can do for each individual.  How grateful I was that I had also seen their example (particularly the example of my sweet wife) and decided to quit being a curmudgeon and start being the man I ought to be.  We will likely never see that young man again, but I hope he remembers our family.  I hope he remembers that warmth he felt and recognizes it again sometime in the future.  I hope someday he’s in a situation where that warmth will be identified for him as the love of the Savior and that he will be able to act on that information and accept Him.  I hope that in the future I will more consistently remember the importance of my own example and not let my weaknesses interfere with subtle opportunities to share the gospel.  
I am grateful for what I have.  I am grateful for my family.  I am grateful for my wife.  I am grateful for my Savior.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Children’s Welfare Institute

What a beautiful day we experienced with Conner yesterday. We had the opportunity to visit his orphanage in Wuhan.  Through the years we have visited most of the orphanages that our children have lived in.  They have all been well-kept facilities with providers who seemed to genuinely care about the children they were helping.  But there was something different about the facility in Wuhan.  There is a special spirit there.  We could feel of the great concern and love and hope that the staff had for the children.
 We started out our visit by pulling into the drop-off area.  As we got out of our van, we noticed something we had never seen before:  a massive TV screen showing a loop of a 5-minute video about the Wuhan Children’s Welfare Institute.  It was a well-done presentation that talked about the needs of the special children being cared for in this facility.  It shared stories of kids who have been adopted by in-country and foreign families.  Several of these kids had returned to the orphanage to visit, and one is even the current art teacher there.  This particular man immediately became near and dear to our hearts because of his lack of hands and his ability to do his artwork with his feet.  They gave us a copy of the video and we’ll try to post it when we get back home.  Conner has a short bit in it.
We were greeted by many of the orphanage staff as well as a local TV crew.  Apparently Conner is a bit famous in Wuhan. The day before we arrived, his story was in the local newspaper.  The cultivation of his tremendous musical talent despite his blindness combined with his being adopted by an American family has been of interest to the local government and news media.  They will be running a TV news story on him throughout the entire province in the next day or two.  By the way, when you say “local media” in China, for many cities, including Wuhan (population around 10 million), that would be one of the largest markets in the US.
The first room we went into was filled with some of Conner’s closest friends.  They were all very excited to see him.  He was immediately led to the piano and the kids crowded around him.  He started to play a song and they all joined in singing.  We’re not sure what the song was, but it was so sweet to see how the kids loved performing with him.
After the song was over, we were introduced to Conner’s foster family.  This group of 4 kids stays with the same foster parents every weekend, then comes back to the Welfare Institute during the week.  Conner and another 12-year-old girl have been foster siblings for the last seven years!  This poor, sweet girl was inconsolable.  She was clearly devastated to lose her foster brother and friend.  Her tears flowed freely and both Christi’s and my hearts ached for her as we watched.  Conner’s foster mother was also there with a huge bag full of some of Conner’s favorite foods.  She clearly had a tender heart and loved these five kids she was fostering.  We had some gifts for them as well.  One was a baseball cap with the BYU “Y” on it.  She put it on the head of the youngest foster sibling, a boy around nine or ten years old.  This little boy had a pout on his face and said, “No!  Jiaxia (Conner’s Chinese name) is not my best friend now!  He is not nice anymore!  He is leaving!”  Clearly, Conner is loved by his peers, and for good reason.  Fortunately, we found out that at least a couple of his foster siblings have their paperwork ready at this point and have their files with adoption agencies.  Our prayers will be with them to find their forever families!
You can’t really explain just how outgoing our newest little man is.  He is the huggingest, lovingest,  “I-love-my-family”est, “My-family-is-so-friendly”est kid you've ever seen.  He is SO soaking up having parents.  Dozens of times a day he will tell each of one of us how much he loves and and give us a huge hug. He is a social butterfly.  Every time someone says something in English he asks what was said.  He loves to be part of things.  He has the sweetest disposition and always wears his world-class smile.  Seriously, he’s been with us for five full days now, going through what is normally a challenging transition, and I haven’t once seen him look sad.  He just keeps saying, “I very love my family!”  He has looked serious occasionally, when asking questions about school and the logistics of living in America.  He wants to know what he’s facing when he gets to his new home.  But he is truly just the most joyful, loveable kid you've ever met!  We are SO grateful and so sure that he was just meant to be part of our family.

After a little while, Christi did what the women in my life (e.g. my mom) have been doing since I was about eight years old.  “Jeremy can play the piano, too! Would you like to hear him?”   Of course everyone wanted to.  So I sat down and played Great Balls of Fire with all my heart.  I don’t think the kids were used to such vim and vigor.  Some were scared.  Lots laughted and smiled.  Afterwards, Conner said, “Daddy scared me.  He is so good.  Will I be good enough?”  CuteJ.  And yes, Conner, you’ll be great.  I’m not that good, I’m just loud.

After meeting with all of his friends we moved on to a tour of the orphanage.  We walked past rooms with kids of all ages, from infants to teens.  Christi couldn’t help herself from picking up one particularly cute infant girl.  She is already looking forward to being a grandma.  (No pressure, kids!)  It is always heartbreaking to see these sweet children of God.  They are in a good place with good people, but is doesn't make up for not having a mom and dad.  It is hard not to cry.  We ended up in the room where he practices piano.  His orphanage piano teacher was also there.  At first we didn't realize the significance of where we were.  But then his teacher told us that Conner had a song he wanted to play for his mom.  She asked Christi to stand by the piano.  He began to play “Near, Far, Wherever You Are” (theme song from “Titanic”) as she sang with him.  Christi and I immediately realized we were hearing the same song played in the same place where we had first been introduced to our little boy on video, and we both burst into tears.  (Of course this was documented by the TV crew.  Nice!)  It was so beautiful to see that scene recreated.  The teacher was leaning over him and singing, just like in the original video that allowed us to fall in love with him.  It was an unbelievably beautiful moment we felt so privileged to experience.

Afterwards, his piano teacher spoke to us for a long time.  She told us several stories about our Conner, including how shy and introverted he once was.  Our favorite story was how when she first began to teach him, he told her he wanted to be a professional pianist.  She told him he would have to practice very hard at least three hours a day.  She then left the room but kept checking on him without letting him know, wanting to see how long he would really practice on his own.  SIX hours later, he finally stood up and began to leave the room.  He needed to go to the bathroom so badly that he didn't quite make it—but he had been too afraid to ask to stop practicing.  (:  She also told us that he had asked her “thousands of times if a real mom and dad would ever accept him because he was blind.”  Ahhh.  Tore at our heart strings.  She said that she kept telling him that if he wished it and felt it in his heart that it could come true. The whole conversation was very touching and humbling and made us realize even more what a special young man he is.

Once we were done at the orphanage, we went to the music college in Wuhan.  A couple of years ago a high-ranking official in the Wuhan government met Conner and was extremely impressed.  He arranged for Conner to receive free weekly lessons at the college from an accomplished professor there.  (In fact, this professor will be performing in Pennsylvania in July and we’re hoping to get Conner out there for the concert.)  We had the chance to meet this professor and watch as he gave Conner a short lesson.  It was here that we began to understand just what an incredible musical ability he has.  The teacher would play a series of notes from a new song and Conner would quickly be able to imitate them on a second piano.  Within minutes he was able to imitate a complex musical phrase, including dynamics and touch.  It was really quite incredible.  We are so excited to see where he can go with his music.  It is clearly very important to him.

We are now in Guangzhou.  Can’t believe we’re halfway through!  We really loved Wuhan.  It’s a beautiful city on the banks of the Yangtze river.  We spent a day exploring a beachfront park and the Yellow Crane Tower.  We also had tons of fun in the hotel swimming pool.  At least some of us went swimming every day we were there.  (And of course we were required to purchase the lovely swim caps many Chinese pools require!)  We had Burger King and McDonald’s and a knock-off pizza hut and room service and a couple of nights of ramen cooked in our hotel room.  In spite of the names of those restaurants I mentioned, the ramen was probably the most American food we had.  We will miss this beautiful city and hope to be able to bring Conner back someday.

Thanks for all of the prayers and service and support and love.  We feel their effects and appreciate all of you so much!


Conner plays for his friends

Conner comforts his unhappy foster brother

Taylor wants some attention :)

Conner with his first piano teacher

Conner with his sad foster sister

Conner's foster mom

Conner plays the Titanic theme song

Conner with his new piano professor