(#13 in the Annie series)
The day before we left Guangzhou Nikki asked Elsie, our translator, what Annie’s Chinese name means in English. It’s:
Long Xin Zi
We knew that Long is her last name, but Elsie told us that it means “dragon,” for the year Annie was presumed to be born, 2009. Xin means “joyfulness,” Elsie said, and Zi means “purple.”
In translation, her name would be:
Dragon Joyfulness Purple
But to turn it around English-style, she is:
Joyful Purple Dragon
Of course, Aunt Jan had to go on Amazon, right there in Guangzhou, and locate a soft purple dragon, which was easily found. Pretty cute one, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was made in China, like Annie. I knew it would be waiting for Annie when she got to Sacramento.
Joyful Purple Dragon had an interview at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou today, around the corner and down the block from our hotel. Well, her new mama did the talking, and dealt with paperwork and heard details like after she goes to the U.S., Annie cannot use her Chinese passport again. She will be officially American, and the Chinese will no longer recognize the passport they just issued her here. It’s a one-time usage, that little red passport, and tomorrow, Elsie will deliver Annie’s new blue U.S. passport, so that on July 2, when she gets off the plane and goes through customs in San Francisco, Annie will be a U.S. citizen. Just like that.
As if it were that easy. As if Nikki hasn’t been working on this process for years, raising money and setting up everything so she could travel here to retrieve a little girl she met years ago when she volunteered at an orphanage and a hospice for dying children, the hospice that took Annie in and saved her life.
But we are about to leave Guangzhou after Annie’s passport and visa arrive tomorrow, taking the fast train back to Hong Kong, going through Chinese customs and then Hong Kong customs. This is the beginning of the journey home. We’ll stay for two days with Anne and John Macpherson, then make the long plane trip to California. Like so many of her countrymen and women before her, Annie will cross the great Pacific Ocean to land in San Francisco to begin her life as an American.
Annie saw the U.S. consulate for the first time with me a couple of days ago. It was a Sunday, and Nikki and Elsie had gone out to find medication for Annie. It turned out that The Lighthouse did not give Nikki all of Annie’s meds when we went to visit, and her seizure medication is an important one. I offered to take Annie for a walk in a direction we had not gone before, so Nikki and Elsie could locate the right medication in (and this is what took them to five different locations, including a couple of hospitals) the right dosage.
We headed out to the big building (above) where Annie had her medical appointment the morning after we arrived in Guangzhou. It seemed like weeks earlier, when it had only been a couple of days. I parked her in the Sunday-quiet walkway outside the building to take her photo, this small person surrounded by such a big structure, such a big world.
It turned out that the U.S. consulate was across the street from the medical building, though I didn’t know that until we’d walked around a corner and saw the words emblazoned on a nondescript building behind a tall fence: U.S. Consulate General. On weekdays dozens of Chinese line up outside the consulate, hoping to get temporary visas to come to the U.S. for work or school or to marry. But on Sunday all was quiet on that western front.
I was surprised on that quiet Sunday, pushing Annie alongside the consulate fence, to find myself with an actual lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. It was, as usual, sweltering under the bright blue day with no breeze. The American flag hung limp as a dishrag on its pole outside the consulate. Still, I thought, that’s a bit of home. That limp piece of red, white and blue is tangible evidence of my people. It’s not a perfect country, but it’s mine, and there’s something about being very far from home that made me want to salute that flag, to say that yes, I am proud to say that I’m an American. It’s something many, many Chinese would love to be, or at least many of them would love to spend time in my country. And this little girl, her mama and I get to go back to that place we call home.
Annie and I continued on our way, crossing the street to walk by the Guangzhou Opera House, which looks like a huge, misshapen spaceship that hosts world-class performers. It was designed by Zaha Hadid to look like a “double pebble,” it says on its website, and was completed in 2010 at a cost of about $200 million (U.S.).
We strolled by a basketball court where, as in our own country on a weekend morning, small boys ran around tossing balls toward seemingly out-of-reach baskets.
Next to the basketball court sat the impressive Guangzhou No. 2 Children’s Palace where many kids and parents swarmed in for arts activities, including piano lessons, I deduced from all the pianos behind glass on one side of the building.
We saw the 712-foot lattice telecommunication tower (Guangzhou Tower) that has observation platforms on floors 107 and 108. Nearby is the Guangdong Olympic Stadium, which holds 80,000 people for football matches (soccer to us Yanks). Very impressive architecture compared to the modest U.S. consulate.
But I was OK with that. I liked that the Americans weren’t trying to show off in this city of super-tall, unusually shaped buildings. And by the time we walked back by the consulate, there was a breeze. The flag unfurled and waved at us.
“That’s gonna be your flag now,” I said to Annie. “Land of the free. Home of the brave. Like you, who are very brave. In America you can be anything you want to be and live anywhere you want to live.”
This is not possible in China, I had learned. Most people live their whole lives in the city, as well as the province, in which they were born. Translator Elsie, for example, would love to live someplace else, but to do so, she needs a document from her hometown, which she has to travel there to get. And she can’t travel out of Guangzhou. Chinese Catch-22.
I didn’t try to explain to Annie why there was also a rainbow flag in a window of the consulate or point out the huge banner announcing that it was June, Pride month in the U.S. My heart swelled a bit with—yes—pride for that bold move on the consulate’s part.
“Good thing it’s behind a fence,” Nikki told me later. “The Chinese hate that idea. Not long ago the president of China said that there were no gay people in China.”
And this is one more reason I am grateful to live in the land of liberty, though that liberty has not always been applied equally. It still isn’t. But we’re getting there. Ten years ago—heck, three years ago—I bet no U.S. consulate was flying a rainbow flag in June, especially in China. This one is now, as I imagine others are, too. Progress comes in inches, not feet.
And when I looked down at her again, I saw that Joyful Purple Dragon had fallen asleep on our morning stroll. I realized that this child will grow up with her Chinese heart and a blue American passport. I’m sure her mama will put away JPD’s red passport and her adoption papers for her to look at when she’s older and tell her the story again of how she came to be her mama’s daughter, Rosie Suzanne Cardoza—known now as Annie—who will always carry Long Xin Zi inside her.