by Kyle Liston
The invitation began, “There is a dragon in the distant orient: its name is China. Do you want to be in China to feel it's history of thousands of years? Do you want to be in Beijing and be a part of the rich Chinese culture? Do you want to have a colorful summer vacation in the country where you were born?"
I opened it and read along. The China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) was inviting my daughter, and twenty nine other children adopted from China and living in America, to a special camp about Chinese Culture. I realized this was the opportunity of a lifetime, and that I wanted my daughter to have this chance. I quickly printed, filled, and faxed the application off to the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) - who was busily working with the CCAA to make this happen.
Two days later, I would learn that the camp was filled beyond original capacity. Thirty instead of twenty five kids were going. They would need a fifth chaperone, preferably one with nursing or medical experience.
Could I go?
Chuck Johnson from NCFA asked. About fifty phone calls and several hours later, there was an enthusiastic yes! This news relieved my daughter's father, and a bit of a bummer for a twelve year old girl, who was eager to be on a teen only vacation. After explaining that with me handy, there would be more retail opportunities, and a little more shopping money, she relented.
So, we quickly started getting our documents ready, buying backpacks and school supplies for the kids in the Tianjin Orphanage we would meet. We bought gifts for the CCAA staff, stocked up on meds we might need for the trip, and wrote parents and giving them CDC medical links, packing, repacking, making arrangements for our pets. I arranged to be away from my busy Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture practice, and farmed out some of my clients.
So, what was all of this talk about dragons in the invitation? My training in oriental medicine had me curious. In addition to traditional Chinese Medicine, I studied Taoist Five Element Acupuncture. There are two treatments in that system called the Seven Dragons. I'd just have to go and find out for myself.
We arrived safely in Beijing on the fourteenth of August, just in time for a quick meal and fast night's sleep. We hooked up with the other campers and chaperones in the morning.
Opening Ceremonies began early the next morning at CCAA. The children were shown the dossier room, the matching room, and the records room. I am convinced that real magic occurs in the matching room, where all the little children's pictures were on the wall of each cubicle and a dedicated staff member took the time to match the right child to their new parents. The kids were really fascinated by this. The most exciting room of CCAA was the records room. For each child whose records were stored here, CCAA had pulled their file and had it waiting for them. The kids were invited to open and have a look. There before their eyes were their referral pictures, their parents’ original application, and stacks of carefully hand-stamped documents. The CCAA staff translated some of the info one-on-one for the children as they asked their many questions. They were thrilled! They were home!
The Dance of the Water and Fire Dragon Begins
The next activity was a four hour lecture by Mrs. Ma, a very talented local Chinese English teacher. She would condense five thousdan years of Chinese history, culture, calligraphy, painting, paper making, kite flying, paper cutting, pottery, fish, reading and writing characters, language, counting in her tantalizing lecture.
So, how does one come to understand a dragon?
Mrs. Ma explained the dragon and it's Chinese symbolism to her eager audience. Within minutes, her mesmerizing pictures of the dragons, China, Chinese characters, calligraphy, pottery, fish, landscaping and writing started making sense. It was as if an ancient memory was stirred in each child's being. They were searching for the dragon in the pictures and characters in her presentation, looking at dragon masks and dragon dances. Dragons are very magical, mythical creatures, bringing good fortune, protection, and prosperity. The dragon is the only Chinese zodiac animal which is imaginary.
According to Chinese tradition, China represents the blue dragon pertaining to water. Think of the element of water, the nature of flowing, steady, courageous motivation and tremendous resources. Water pertains to the kidneys, seen as the source of all of the ancestral heredity and power. The heart is seen as the Emperor himself. The red dragon pertains to the Imperial Minister of Fire of the heart in Chinese medicine and culture, as it brings joy and love to all it touches. In Chinese Medicine, there is an acupuncture point on the heart protector meridian called "Neiguan" which translates as 'inner frontier gate'. This is considered the gateway into the heart itself.
Now it was coming together. The invitation, Mrs. Ma's lecture, the CCAA, the Minister of Civil Affairs had done it! The great red door to China's heart was opened wide for these blessed Children. At the end of our visit, we would learn the source of the invitation. The Minister of China's Civil Affairs, Minister Li, had issued the call home along with CCAA. That was the call from the ancient dragon. It was if Minister Li had pressed the magic Neiguan point of China to open that gate into the heart, the emperor fire, of the country. We would also learn that Minister Li's own heart was deeply extended to these children, as he has a thirteen month old baby girl also adopted from China. Minister Li and Chinese Central Adoption Affairs warmly welcomed and received all thirty children, and their five chaperones.
We felt loved and wanted at once. The children were constantly told that they were welcome in China, China is their home, and they are free to come back as often as they wish.
Treated like little emperors and empresses, they would rapidly need this in preparation for their camp visit. They were treated with lessons in song, dance, paper cutting, kite painting, language, and haggling skills for shopping. They now could count and use Chinese hand signals to bargain in the bustling markets. They happily dined with chop sticks and slurped noodles down in local fashion. The children also enjoyed historical presentations, such as the Beijing Opera, changing face and mask presentation, Mongolian music and dance, and Beijing Acrobats. They experienced trips to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, Beijing Cultural Museum, Beijing zoo, and so many more sites. Everywhere they went, they were looking for the common thread of the dragon and other cultural ties. They took pictures of the dragons in the beautifully painted buildings at Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and Forbidden City. They bought dragon t-shirts, dragon paper cuts, dragon painted chopsticks and more (about fifty suitcases worth). They spent an entire day in a family in Beijing, which all reported to be the favorite experience of the whole trip. The group visited an orphanage in Tianjin and really enjoyed playing with and entertaining the children, presenting them with backpacks brimming with school supplies, and sharing candy. They soon discovered who they truly were in their core at the hand of the loving guides and teachers from CCAA and the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
The kids really bonded with each other, the families that they spent the day with in Beijing, the Chinese counselors, the CCAA staff, the Ministry staff, Camp Director Mr. Ji, Director Lu, and Director Zhang, Mrs. Chu, Mrs. Liu. The children will remember them all, and are happy to have their new Grandfather Li in China.
Mostly, they found the Chinese Counselors to be like older sisters. Many of these lovely children reclaimed their identity by participating in this trip. Some said it filled a hole in their heart that they never knew they had. For others, it was their first exposure to such a large group of kids with similar backgrounds. For all, there was a unique sense of pride and connection with their birth country and its culture. Most have been very homesick for China since their return.
All five chaperones and thrity children were appreciative of the warm embrace of China's heart and the loving reception of the Chinese government and people.
For me, I will not only remember the trip. I will forever see in my mind the Blue Water dragon of China merrily dancing with the Red Fire Dragon of America. And never forget the loving and well planned actions of the CCAA and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as they welcomed their sons and daughters from afar. And I think there was another rumbling from the great dragon. CCAA and Minister Li said would be more camps and more campers in the future.