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Kids like me… in China

When you first meet her, Ying Ying Fry seems like an ordinary American kid. The lanky eight-year-old is a Junior Girl Scout and a proud member of the City Track cross-country team. She’s bilingual, having learned Mandarin from babysitters and from classes at the Chinese American International School. “Like lots of kids in my city,” she will tell you, “I’m Chinese American. But I wasn’t born that way. When I was really small, I was just Chinese. Then my American parents came and adopted me, and that’s how I got the American part.”

During the past few years, China has opened its doors to American families seeking a baby to adopt. For the prospective parents, the journey is a rigorous one, filled with unfamiliar sights and customs. Several of these new mothers of Chinese-born daughters have published accounts of their experiences.

But Ying Ying provides a different perspective. Last year she traveled to Changsha, the capital city of Hunan, to visit the orphanage where she lived until her “forever family” came to adopt her. Her book, “Kids Like Me in China,” is the story of what she found there. Her mother, Amy Klatzkin, used Ying Ying’s own journals and recollections to reconstruct the trip, and Ying Ying had final approval over the wording.

Cast aside your pre-conceptions of Chinese orphanages, formed by the media’s sensationalist doom-mongers. This account is a happy one, filled with colorful photographs of kids’ smiling faces.

It’s also a thoughtful account, raising the kinds of questions that are important to any adopted child. Ying Ying already knew that, for some reason, her birth parents had been unable to keep her and had left her in a place where she would be safe. But what was it like to be a baby in that place? What was her caregiver like? “I wanted to see someone,” she says, “who knew me and loved me when I lived in China.”

Ying Ying spent several days the orphanage, getting to know the other children and retrieving part of her own past. She tried to make sense of China’s birth-control regulations as she pondered the reasons that babies like her ended up in institutions. “But the babies didn’t do anything wrong! Why do they have to lose their first families? I don’t think those rules are fair to babies.”

“Then there’s the girl thing” – she needed to understand why most babies given up for adoption in China are girls. She began to realize the importance of sons in Chinese culture: “Because boys pass on the family name to their children and take care of their parents when they’re old, some people in China feel that they have to have a boy.”

An only child, she was fascinated by the idea of living in a community setting like the orphanage. She noticed how the children there took care of each other, “like a big family, except there’s no mom or dad.” She decided that she would miss her own parents, but still wondered “what it would be like to grow up at the orphanage.”

Ying Ying left satisfied. “China isn’t my home anymore, but it’s where I was born. Even though that was a long time ago, it’s a really important part of my life. If I hadn’t been born in China, I wouldn’t be me.”

Ying Ying Fry, Kids Like Me in China. St. Paul, Minn.: Yeong & Yeong Book Company, 2001. $18. For more information: 651 454-1358; Bboyd@YeongandYeong.com; www.YeongandYeong.com/KidsLikeMe.htm

At 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 9, Ying Ying Fry will read from Kids Like Me in China and sign copies of her book at Eastwind Books, 2066 University Ave., Berkeley. Two short videos will also be shown, one set in the playroom at the Changsha orphanage, the other featuring a Christmas party at a public school in Changsha. For more information, call 510 548-2350.

That Gandhi statue… again

The fine old statue of Gandhi, hidden away behind the Ferry Building, has attracted the attention of a foreign visitor. The website sanfrancisco.about.com recently posted the following message:

I’ve just spent a fantastic 9 days visiting SF for the first time. What a GREAT city! Saw and did lots of great things and had loads of interesting conversations along the way with locals. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my travels so far.

One thing puzzles me though...... why oh why is the statue of someone of Mahatma Gandhi’s global importance hidden away in a parking lot?! I couldn’t believe my eyes! I got off the ferry from Sausalito and immediately spotted SOMEBODY’S statue at Pier 1, jammed in among the cars. It seemed a very odd way to honour whoever it was and I was STUNNED as I got up close to discover it was Gandhi. WHAT a disgraceful insult!!!

I had to scrunch down next to the car parked about 8 inches away from it in order to get a photo, while hoping fervently that no one would suspect me of being a car thief! As I got my photo, a local approached and he understood my surprise and agreed it’s no way to honour such a great person. He said that “poor old Gandhi” used to be in another spot but was moved. WHY?!? Or at least why wasn’t he put somewhere prominent and accessible befitting his enormous contribution to the world?! It beggars belief and shows up the city very badly.

It’s ironic considering that one of his best known admirers has a lovely memorial at Yerba Buena Gardens, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps THAT’S the appropriate home for this lovely statue of the man who so greatly influenced and inspired Dr King. Seems the obvious choice to me. What do others think? Caitlin McKiernan, London England

Here is moderator James Martin’s reply:

Hi Caitlin, I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to our city. I’ve thought about your post for quite a while. It sent me on a chase after material on the subject of the Gandhi statue in the Ferry Plaza. Just a couple of background notes: the area around the ferry plaza has been “under construction” for quite some time, mostly for the purpose of putting in trolley lines and stops. The area in front of the Ferry Building used to be the farmers’ market area. I’m not sure if they’re completely through working there.

I tend to agree with you that the statue could have a better home. Many questions have occurred to me after reading your post, the worst of which was “what’s the most revered object to a San Francisco driver?” The answer is a parking space, of course. Thus, in a backhanded way, the statue is linked to the most sought-after piece of real estate in the area.

Kidding aside, perhaps the reason that Gandhi doesn’t command the respect and admiration that he once did is that all he stood for is suddenly evaporating. People are rushing to give up their freedoms, their rights, their compassion, their humanity. War has been re-packaged as a recurring spectator sport and we’re lovin’ it.

The “good guys” can even bomb red cross aid stations on the flimsy excuse that the “enemy” might draw sustenance from them and we don’t blink an eye. It’s all a game. At the same time we ignore the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve died in Iraq because we’ve bombed their water treatment and storage plants and won’t let materials into the country to fix them. And yet we can’t for the life of us figure out how anyone can hate Americans, a “peace-loving people.”

In the age when we thought highly of Gandhi we would have at least paid lip service to a peaceful resolution of the conflicts that threaten world peace. And it wasn’t so many years ago that we would have at least sent a few diplomats and actually confirmed exactly who our enemy was before declaring war. And so the statue gets little attention now.

Perhaps a good fight to relocate it would start a dialog on the benefits of understanding cultures and promoting non-violent solutions. I’d like to think so anyway. … james

Caitlin McKiernan added, in a subsequent email to the Call:

Here in London, Gandhi’s statue has pride of place in the centre of Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury. It often has fresh flowers left by admirers and every year on 2 Oct, it’s covered in birthday flowers. After Sep 11, candles were left there as a reminder of the importance of nonviolence. This kind of continuing presence and ongoing relevance in people’s minds is what your statue deserves, not summary disposal and dismissal.

The discussion continues at www.sanfrancisco.about.com/library/bl_gandhi.htm.

Betsey Culp