the translation

Last Thursday morning I found the nerve to knock on our neighbor’s door. I knew the family was from China and wanted to ask if someone could help me with the translation of my adoption contract, which had been buried in my parents’ attic for years. I wondered why I’d waited so long to have someone take a look at it. As I stood there waiting for someone to answer the door, I studied a small red vase with intricately etched dragons and yellow flowers hanging next to the door. I wondered what the characters on the vase said. After several minutes, my neighbor answered the door. He owns a Chinese food restaurant right down the street. I stumbled over my words as I tried to explain why I had stopped by. He told me in broken English to come back in half an hour when his daughter-in-law would be there. I busied myself around the house and lost track of time until the doorbell rang an hour or so later. Our neighbor’s youngest son, Alex, appeared in the doorway with his sister-in-law, Kelly. He introduced her to me and explained that she did not speak English but would be happy to interpret my papers. I gave him a copy of the adoption contract regretful that he had to hurry off to class. That meant I’d have to wait for the interpretation. I tried not to think about it too much throughout the day as I anticipated meeting them later.

The following night, our doorbell rang once again. It was our neighbors, Alex and Kelly. After showing them in, we gathered around the dinner table with the adoption contract, and the translation began. I sat on the edge of my chair wishing I could understand what Kelly was saying. I tried to determine the language she spoke. Was it Mandarin or Cantonese?  Every so often Alex would interject to ask a question. Finally, Alex turned to me. The first thing he told me was that one particular page of the contract was a history of why my birth parents placed me for adoption. According to this paper, my birth parents were very poor and “there was no money in the household.” I was the 4th daughter from a large family. It didn’t state how many other siblings there were, but Alex and Kelly seemed to believe that the family was very large. They had to give one girl up for adoption and it happened to be me, the youngest. I immediately wondered if had I been born a boy, would they have kept me? I wondered if they had been disappointed that another girl had been born into the family? Did they waiver over the decision to relinquish me? Was I placed in the orphanage right after my birth, or did I stay with my birth parents for a little while? In my mind, I was also trying to reconcile the differences in stories between my mom’s account and what was actually written on the contract. Mom had always told me that my birth parents had placed all the girls for adoption and that they had tried to find one of my sisters to adopt her too. So many missing pieces.

Alex then brought my attention to a specific area of the contract. It was the handwritten signatures of both my birth parents on the contract. I was amazed that their signatures were actually right there on the paper, and I’d never noticed it before. He circled their names, the Mandarin characters written one on top of the other in vertical fashion. In fact, the entire contract was written in traditional Chinese text forming vertical columns from top to bottom. I examined the faded handwriting of my birth parents more closely. Alex moved on and explained that my birth parents were from a province in China, not Taiwan, called Guangxi. Another surprise. “It’s in south China,” he explained, “like Hong Kong.” He wrote out the name phonetically, Gong-sai, so that I’d remember how to pronounce it. Cantonese is the prominent language in Guangxi and all of southern China. Later, I did some research on Guangxi learning that it has a population of 45 million people made up of several ethnic groups and borders the country of Vietnam. Hmm… So maybe that had something to do with my adoptive parents telling me that I was part Vietnamese. So, how did I end up in Taiwan? Did my birth parents travel, or actually move there? Alex suggested that perhaps the orphanages were better in Taiwan and my birth parents placed me there to increase any chances of being adopted.

As the evening came to a close, Alex and Kelly assured me that my adoption was legally agreed upon by both my adoptive and birth parents. Alex told me that traditional Chinese families typically remain living in one house their whole life, so chances are that the family still currently lives in Guangxi at the same address. He also told me that their address would be fairly easy to locate if we should travel to China one day. I thanked them both for taking the time to help me, and they wished me good luck in my search happy to have been of help.

After they left, I went over everything Alex and Kelly told me. It’s frustrating not having all of the pieces and I’m more intrigued than ever. I’ve enlisted the help of a social worker at an adoption agency specializing in adoptions from Taiwan. I hope that she can help me find my birthfamily, or at least connect me to the right people. It seems like a longshot, but I can always hope.

5 thoughts on “the translation

  1. Carole Ann

    Marijane, your story is spell-binding. Having experiences is one thing but being able to “tell the story” is another. You have both. The way you bring the reader along as you search for answers is, for me, like sitting right beside you. I see the paper as you see it. I read the letters in vertical writing as you read them. I want to travel to China with you. I want to look for your parents and your siblings with you. Our journey together continues and we yet the future remains a myster.

    As always, I leave you with the single word….more.

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      1. Anonymous

        Marijane….talk about edge of your seat reading. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to sit, in your own home, while someone read to you, the beginning of your life, on this earth. I honestly can’t imagine it and I doubt anyone could, unless they experienced it, first hand.

        I feel honored that you’re sharing this journey with us. Your writing is excellent but more, it’s so heartfelt.

        When I was around 20 years old, I saw for the first time, a baby picture of myself and I remember what an impact it made on me. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old and my father retained all the photos and he wasn’t in the mood to share them, so my brother “borrowed,” a few. It’s a strange thing to never have seen yourself as a child and yet it is nothing compared to your situation.

        Life does come full circle. I’m so encouraged that you may find the answers, to your beginning.

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  2. Beth

    What a wonderful journey of exploration you are on! Like Randy, I love the fact that you are sharing it all with us! How very exciting and scary at the same time to have your past come to you in bits and pieces this way. How serendipitious that you have neighbors who were able to translate your papers for you! I would want to be on the very next plane to Guangxi and be questioning the locals to find the house Alex and Kelly talked about. I don’t think you realize you are writing your book as you go and you have every one of us totally capitivated already!

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  3. Randy Heinitz

    The plot thickens and wow.. it’s fascinating! I love how you kept us, the readers, in suspense on this entry and once again I’ll reiterate… thank you for sharing this adventure.

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