From Magic City Morning Star|
"Unseen Tears" is a fictional tale which is designed to bring to reader attention the plight of orphans in China, especially "special needs" orphans. The author Beau Sides, who has made approximately 50 trips to China, is heavily involved and invested in helping these orphans and the people who do their best to care for them.
While reading the book I advised the publicist that although Mr. Sides and I are on two different continents, I would like to interview him. When that was agreed to, I compiled a list of questions for the author and he responded to them very quickly.
After a little back-and-forth and some editing magic, I am happy today to present to you an Interview with Beau Sides, author of "Unseen Tears."
Interview with Author Beau Sides
Mr. Sides I would like to thank you for agreeing to this interview, and welcome you to Magic City Morning Star News.
It's my pleasure and please let me thank you for your interest in Unseen Tears! I appreciate it very much. I can tell from your questions that you have a great command of the Chinese culture! Thanks so much for your willingness to work with Unseen Tears.
Now it is my turn to use that oft heard phrase in China: "It is my pleasure." Actually the issue of abandoned children in China is one with which I have had a connection since not long after I came to China and it was for that reason that I requested "Unseen Tears" for review. The thing I found strange about your book is that you have written about orphans in China as a fictional tale rather than a non-fictional tale. Why is that?
I chose to write about the orphans as a fictional tale for multiple reasons. Unseen Tears was never meant to be a book that quoted numbers and facts, because the children are much more than that to me. Also, I felt the book would have a better flow as a fiction book, and there may have been an item in the book that I have never witnessed firsthand, but I was told about it, so I felt fiction was a better match.
Why did you use a Female lead character?
My friends tell me it is hard at first for them to the read the stories I have told them about in person, as they are being lived out by a lady and not me. The reason I chose to use the female character was because I didn't want this book to be about me. So a female with hair is very opposite from me!
Can we assume that you put a lot of your own personality into Jan Cross the lead character?
There were a couple of areas of my personality that ended up being the same for Jan Cross. Probably the best example of that is her realizing that she needs to be less of a control freak; I struggle with that myself! Ironically, the inclusion of this trait wasn't intentional; it was the reason for Jan to go to China in the first place after graduating from college. By putting herself into an environment where she had to rely on others for assistance, she planned to become less of a control monger. After writing about Jan's obsession to be in control, I realized the same was true for me. Additionally, Jan had a heart for the children, and so do I!
"When and why did you make your first trip to China?
My first trip to China was in 2002. A friend of mine who played basketball in college had a friend who suggested we go to China and play basketball at a university there. It was kind of like using basketball to break the cultural barriers and promote global unity kind of a trip. Since I like to travel I decided I would go to China, a place I never thought I would visit. We spoke to English classes on campus and played basketball. Each department at the university had their own basketball team, so we got to play several games while we were there. During the trip I fell in love with the people of China and their culture. The Chinese were very kind hearted toward us, helpful, and friendly. Luckily I was able to stay in touch with the university and they offered me the opportunity to come and teach in 2003. My bosses were very generous and gave me a leave of absence and my wife approved of my going, so off I went! If you knew about my academic performance in undergraduate school, you would find irony in me teaching at a university!
How long had you worked in China as a foreign teacher before you became involved with orphans?
I had only been in China a month or two when the fire at the fireworks factory occurred. It was a horrible event in the area! The fire and the outbreak of SARS were about the two most commonly spoken about current events on campus. Initially I only gave money for the orphans, but during other trips I had opportunities to meet the orphans we support.
While I understand why you protect the identity of people and institutions, can you tell our readers why this is necessary?
With the increase in the usage of social media we have to be diligent with protecting ourselves and others. At first Anne was comfortable with allowing pictures of the children to go out over the Internet, but now she isn't. Anne was working with a lady who is employed with an international organization that helps children. The lady told Anne about someone in Portugal getting mad at her organization for posting pictures of children and this struck a nerve with Anne. Anne is very protective of her children and she went so far as to install cameras in her orphanage to see who was coming and going while the provincial officials and the police were coming to inspect the independent orphanages after a fire in an independent orphanage claimed the lives of multiple children. So, I also want to protect our friends and respect the wishes of the leader of the orphanage.
In the book Anne says ".. most foreigners have to be here a long, long time before they can begin to understand." Would you like to comment on this observation?
Anne's statement is broad and can cover many topics. Those of us from the states have a different perspective from a native Chinese person who has grown up within their system. When a foreigner first arrives in China they are amazed by this new found culture. Initially everything is new, cool, and interesting. Soon after, the euphoria begins to wear off and you see things that make you wonder. Sometimes these things can frustrate you or upset you. This phenomenon is known as culture shock. It could be something small like everybody dipping their chopsticks into the same bowl of food, or how in the heck do so many people on the road keep from hitting each other, or why do people insist on parking on the sidewalk.
Another frustrating thing relates to social media access. In the States we have access to Facebook, but for the most part it is blocked in China. An American will see that as a huge inconvenience but after an extended period in China they may come to appreciate that China's government wants to have a harmonious society. Because rumors can so easily be spread on Facebook, it is blocked. It is very frustrating for a foreigner to not be able to post on social media and display photos for their friends. It takes a long time for the foreigner to come to know, understand and appreciate that the Chinese government has a good reason for trying to protect their citizens from the potential problems caused by social media.
The same reality can be applied when dealing with orphans. For someone new to the Chinese culture and orphanages, the decision by the government to remove children from an independent orphanage may seem harsh. We Americans drill down into situations and look for specific information, so we will look at each individual child's situation and we may disagree with the decision to remove a child. Foreigners may consider that this independent orphanage may be the only home the child has known and so would want them to remain in the environment where they are comfortable. The Chinese however take a broader view of the situation. They see that more children can be helped by being placed in a new, clean, and staffed orphanage. They find it difficult to understand why someone would not want a child in a new clean orphanage.
Some other culture differences that I don't think foreigners understand at first would be the constant request for "fapiaos" or receipts; how unpopular clothes dryers are in China and that in the states people date more people than Chinese usually do. Another very important cultural thing to learn here is not to ask so many questions so as to cause someone to lose face. This is why Anne said foreigners have to be in China a long time before they understand.
I often think that westerners are too critical of China, firstly because they fail to understand how short a time it has been 'trouble free' and secondly because they judge it as though it were a western nation. China endured continuous turmoil from around 1840 to 1976 and it was not until Deng Xiaoping became the preeminent leader in 1978 that China really began to open up. China therefore has only had 35 years or so in which to catch up with the rest of the world. Would you like to comment on my statements?
Yes and I agree that westerners judge other countries based on what they know from their home countries. Perhaps some of us are too judgmental and don't realize that just because something isn't done the way you are accustomed to doing it doesn't mean that it is wrong. Most people I think would consider Deng Xiaoping a wonderful leader. His economic plans opened the door for the unequaled economic growth China has seen for more than a decade. I am very happy for my friends in China to have this growth and world recognition.
In my opinion, China has progressed at an amazing pace! When I think about my first trip to China, the city I spent most of my time in had a dirt road running in front of the university. It was a beautiful street with trees creating a median, and now that same road is about 6 lanes wide, paved, and surrounded by tall modern buildings. One of the things that I love most about this city is the people. To me, the people are "shanliang" or kind hearted. Even though this city has doubled in size since I arrived, the people there are still very kind, gracious, friendly, and helpful to an old bald foreigner like me.
I consider China to be my second home, so I am thrilled about the success China has had with hosting the 2008 Olympics, space travel, and now China will host the Olympics again! I am very impressed with how quickly the economic power of China has been recognized around the world, and I am equally impressed by how amazingly fast the military in China has increased.
I have lived in China before and I would gladly live there again! I found my life to be less complicated when I was teaching in China. I could eat in the cafeterias at the university, walk to the market or take a taxi if needed, so I didn't have to worry about my own car and all the expenses related with car ownership. I had all of the conveniences I needed in a modern world like a phone, Internet, and TV.
You know I was raised to respect my elders. With China's culture being much older than my own, I feel it should be respected and valued. If it has worked for thousands of years, some things must be very good about it!
Well you won't get an argument from me on that and like you I find life in China far less stressful than in my own country, Australia. Your book "Unseen Tears" however is not really about the positives of Chinese life but rather the downside; the issues of child abandonment and adoption. I personally am aware that many Chinese view western adoption of Mainland Chinese nationals as a travesty. In fact many refer to it as 'buying and selling babies.' Have you encountered this phenomenon and would you care to make comment about it?
No, I am not aware of western adoption of Chinese babies being considered as a negative. I have however been surprised to learn that rarely do Chinese adopt orphans. I understand that there is the one child policy, so that has had an impact. Also I know that before China's economic explosion many people didn't have discretionary funds for adopting so that also must have played a role as well. I was very thankful to hear how so many Chinese families adopted children after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. To me 2008 was a great year for China. The Olympics showed the world what a fantastic host China could be, and I am certain the global opinion of China rose during and after the Olympics. Also the people of China showed how they could come together to help during a crisis. So many people volunteered to help after the earthquake, and I am told that that was the start of China giving generously to non-government organizations like the Red Cross.
I am personally aware of how skittish Chinese officials are when providing foreign access to orphanages. The thing that really struck me in this fictional tale was the apparent ease with which Jan/you accessed orphanages. Did you gloss over this point in the book or do I take it that your ease of access involved 'private' orphanages only and was facilitated by 'guanxi' relationships and perhaps financial assistance.
In all of my trips to orphanages I have never been to a government run orphanage. I am however told that you would need to have a contact and arrange a time for a visit to a government orphanage. If I showed up unannounced at a government orphanage I seriously doubt I would be allowed in, and I think that is a good way to protect the children. For each of my first visits to an independent orphanage, I always had an escort or I knew someone working at the orphanage. By escort I mean someone that had a relationship with the people working at the orphanage, so I was always welcomed. Unfortunately I don't have much if any guanxi in China, and I am told that guanxi can open many doors in China!
Guanxi certainly does open doors for you in China and can also help you get out of some types of trouble. One form of trouble in China that you did mention in your book was that of the difficulties faced by people who do not have a Hukou or 'family registration papers.' In the book you specifically talked about certain training schools for orphans. Can you discuss both the general problem of 'Black Babies' in China (as they are called) and the specific training programs you mentioned?
Man, my heart truly goes out to a person without their registration or Hukou in China! I am told that a person in that situation can't enroll in school or be legally employed. The case I am most familiar with was written about in the book. The baby was abandoned and then passed around from family to family and then from orphanage to orphanage. By the time he settled in one place and had a home in an independent orphanage in a different province, it was too late for him. He needed so much paperwork done on his behalf. I think he is one person who really needed guanxi!
Somehow my friend was able to get him enrolled into a public school, and when he got older found another school for him. That school allowed him to live there even though he was still young. The school specialized in almost all types of medical programs and the one he entered was for physical therapy. My young friend was strong and that gave him an advantage over other students. Unfortunately, as time drew near for him to graduate, the school decided that they couldn't give him a degree because he didn't have a Houkou. He was allowed to continue his education there but was warned that he may not receive the degree. Without the Hukou and the degree, if he could find a job, he would probably have to work 'off the books' and be paid in cash, and there wouldn't be a retirement plan for him.
My young friend remains in school and he should graduate soon. I am very hopeful that he will graduate, be given his degree, and find employment shortly after graduation. The school he is attending is a large school, and I have been made aware of a significantly smaller school in the town where the special needs orphanage is. This school is only for people with special needs, and the students are taught a marketable skill, so they can become employed and independent. Currently I have a friend going to a school like this and they are studying massage therapy. As with my other friend, hopefully they will graduate and find a job soon!
For a number of years the subject of 'Abandoned Babies' has been amongst the initial topics I assign my college students for discussion in their Oral Tests and I know that most find it hard to believe that people still abandon children at this point in their history. I would like to ask you for your take on whether the number of abandoned children in China is decreasing year by year or still growing, and if you could estimate the total number of abandoned children in China today.
In my opinion college students are not very focused on abandoned babies so that isn't really a current event that would draw their attention. If they did pay attention to this topic, they would know that babies are still abandoned and that is why the baby hatches were started. These are designated safe places for someone to abandon a baby with no questions asked.
Recently I did a quick search for statistics on abandoned babies in China. CCTV had a stat saying that in 2013 10,000 babies were abandoned in China and over 75% of them were disabled. I don't have any current accurate numbers, but I would imagine that as the total population grows there will be more children abandoned. As I mentioned earlier, baby hatches have been established and have been busy with the children they receive. From what I have read, more children were abandoned at the hatches than expected. In contrast to that, not as many couples registered to have a second child, which surprised many including myself.
I don't have current numbers for abandoned babies, but I would imagine the number is increasing. Based on what I have read and been told, I think more female babies are abandoned than male babies and I think that more special needs babies are abandoned than healthy babies. In my heart I truly believe that many of the special needs babies are abandoned by their parents, not because they are unwanted and unloved, but because their parents can't afford the medical expenses their child will have. They feel by abandoning their child they are giving their baby the best chance they can for a happy and healthy life!
One of the initiatives of the 17th Communist Party Congress held in 2007 was the introduction of 'Healthcare 2020' which was designed to over time provide all citizens with adequate medical insurance by 2020. Do you think that this type of medical insurance will impact the number of 'special needs' children being abandoned?
Yes I do believe that having health care available would have a significant impact on the number of children being abandoned. It would be wonderful to keep the families together, and have healthier children. The non-profit organization I started, Global Partners in Life, has paid for several cleft pallet operations for the children at the special needs orphanage. Usually this condition will require three surgeries, so it is easy to see why a poor family would abandon their child with all of the medical bills facing them. It must break the hearts of parents who have to abandon their child due to the child's poor health and a lack of resources to provide all of the medical attention that is needed. With medical coverage available, the difficult decisions will be avoided and the families can flourish where they once struggled. I look forward to the day when all children receive prompt medical attention for their needs, and families can remain together!
Despite China's overall economic progress it is still a developing country and this issue of medical coverage is one of those issues still ongoing. Perhaps as time goes on the rate of abandonment will significantly fall. Now although I have not read it I am aware that you have previously written a book titled "Lessons from China." Can you tell us why you wrote that book, and what its preeminent highlights were?
Thanks for asking about 'Lessons From China.' I wrote the book because I have always had such wonderful experiences in China and I wanted others to have the same great experiences. I talked about some of China's interesting history and the culture that has developed over the centuries. I also give some tips for a new traveler, like when handing something to a Chinese person you hold and present the object with both hands. The book also includes a travel assistance section which we felt made the book unique. I talk about applying for and getting passports and visas. I even listed a good travel agent who has spent years in Asia; listed a good hotel or two, and I provided contact information for the US Consulates in the various cities in China.
As with Unseen Tears, the main character is Jan Cross who was an orphan herself. Jan found bouncing from foster home to foster home unpleasant and she was VERY determined to make her own way and be in control of her college education and career. Jan realized that she had become a control freak, so to combat this, her first job out of college was teaching at a university in China. Since Jan didn't speak the language, she was completely at the mercy of others to function and accomplish the simplest of tasks.
During her time teaching English at a university in China, Jan develops several beautiful relationships with her new Chinese friends. One of these relationships is what brings her back to China in Unseen Tears, as one of her best friends and co-workers is getting married!
Am I correct in assuming that one of the purposes of publishing your books is to generate income for your organization which provides support for Chinese orphans, and that the other is to provide more public exposure in relation to 'special needs' orphans in China?
Yes! I have legally given my intellectual property rights for the book to Global Partners in Life, so any profits from book sales will go to the organization for the work we are doing in China and not to me. Also I wanted to be a voice for those that are so needy and dependent on others. Truthfully, I struggled with the time and expense of having a book published. I am thankful to say that I received support from the board of directors and others when I sought wise council, but the overwhelming thought was how could I look into the eyes of my little friends at the special needs orphanage and tell them I didn't try to help them! I also wanted these books to help families who adopted from China to have a better idea of the environment from which their child may have come. Related to that thought is that I wanted people adopted from China at such an early age that they couldn't remember what is was like, to know where they once lived.
I also want this book to encourage people who are thinking about adopting. At the end of the book I point out that the children who are on my heart are in China, and I ask readers where the children are who are on their hearts. I want to motivate others to get involved...somewhere, anywhere.
Unfortunately there are orphans all around the world, so if helping orphans in China doesn't resonate well with someone, that is fine, but I do encourage everyone to please use their time, talent and finances to help orphans somewhere.
Hopefully "Unseen Tears" will make people aware of a section of our global society that they may never have known existed, or have never considered. One of the many things we take for granted is our health, but for some it is a burden from the time they are born. Collectively we can use the resources we have to help those in need and less fortunate than ourselves. At the end of the book, I challenge people to get involved, but it doesn't have to be special needs orphans from China. I can however tell you from personal experience, that there is a huge joy and satisfaction that will come to those who do get involved and help others, like my special little friends in China!
I would like to thank you Beau for this interview, and I wish you every success with both the book 'Unseen Tears' and your 'Global Partners for Life' initiative.
And thank you! I have done multiple interviews about China, and I must say that yours was the most in depth! It is easy for me to tell that you have spent a great amount of time there, because you understand the culture and know the history. I congratulate you for that, and I enjoyed answering your questions very much!
"Unseen Tears: The Challenges of Orphans and Orphanages in China"
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