It was December 13, 2004 when I met her. I had downloaded the Chinese version of Yahoo Messenger, and hoping to meet someone from another country, I navigated to a list of chatrooms. The whole list was in Chinese, with the exception of one; “E-Z English”. Entering the chatroom, I asked if anyone wanted to practice their English with someone from America. Although several people responded, with Cindy, neither of us wanted to say goodbye. We continued chatting every day and I soon began to consider the possibility of visiting her in China.
I arrived in Hong Kong for the first time on April 1, 2006. I came on a business visa with the intention of making Alaskan souvenirs to sell in the shops back home. I had incorporated a business, naming it Maximum Planet, created a website and business cards, and obtained an invitation from a factory. At that time, I felt confident in certain success. Having all conditions favorable and with a carefully considered “road map”, I stepped boldly onto the path laid out before me.
Stepping off of the airplane was a surreal experience for me. My first time out of North America, I was looking forward to meeting Cindy in person, after months of anticipation. As I cleared customs, I first caught sight of her waiting for me, and anxiously made my way through the crowd to meet her. She had taken a bus from mainland China, her home being a five hour ride to the Hong Kong border. We had made reservations to spend the night in Hong Kong and would explore the city before continuing on to Taishan City, Cindy’s hometown.
Cindy had made quite an impression on me right from the start as we got to know each other online. We shared freely about our joys and sorrows, the high points and low times of our lives, our cultural and religious experiences, and any dream or hope for our lives. By the time we met in person, we already knew each other quite well, and I had no doubt of my love for her and hope to spend my life with this woman at my side. So it was with great expectation that we began our lives together, not knowing that our hopes and dreams would be cut short after just one short year.
I was looking forward to meeting her family and had arranged to meet them over dinner at a restaurant near our new home. We had settled into our large three bedroom apartment on the fifth floor. I was surprised at how big it was, since I had heard of how small an apartment could be in China. Cindy found the apartment for us at my request in preparation of my arrival. She was pleased with the find and had informed me that she found an apartment with a “restroom” and a “toilet”. I was a bit confused with this statement and told her that in America, the toilet is in the restroom. She tried to explain, this time saying “squat toilet”. Still unsure of what she was talking about, I entered those two words into a Google image search and about fell out of my chair at the screen full of images of porcelain toilet bowls that were level with the floor. I was unaware that this kind of toilet existed, much less that it was the standard in China I was thankful to have a “western” style restroom in our apartment and the toilet became the laundry room, needing a place to put the washing machine.
Arriving at the restaurant, I was excited to meet her family, and curious to try “real” Chinese food. They asked me what I wanted to eat and I requested sweet and sour pork, a favorite of mine as a child, having family gatherings often in a Chinese restaurant, where I also learned to use chopsticks. They placed the order, and some time later the dishes started to trickle in. I was expecting all the food to come at once but was surprised when the sweet and sour pork came first and was set in front of me, to see a dozen sets of chopsticks reaching for “my” plate. I was instantly accepted into her family and it was with their blessing that Cindy and I were married on June 1st of the same year.
June 1st was a busy day preparing for the banquet. But first we had to have our picture taken for our marriage certificate and stop by the registry office to have our marriage recorded. We were standing at the bus stop when a man on a motorcycle shouted out something at us as he drove by. “What did he say?”, I asked Cindy. “I don’t know,”, she answered. Cindy was looking especially beautiful in her red Chinese traditional gown! The man on the motorcycle turned in the street, shouting at us again as he passed by us once more. Cindy still had not caught what he said. This time he turned back to continue on his way, shouting once again as he drove off. Cindy began to laugh and I asked again what he said. “I’ll tell you later”, was her reply. “No, tell me now,” I said. Then she told me, “He said, you are old enough to be her father.” At that, we both had a good laugh, since Cindy is more than one year older than me.
Progress at the factory was moving incredibly slow. I kept finding mistakes in their proofs, and in fixing one error they would create two more. This had gone on for five months, and it had become painfully clear that I needed to find another factory. I had taken a job teaching English at an adult learning center to help pass the time and to stretch out my ever dwindling finances. I put some great effort into creating two more websites, determined to make the best of the time waiting. In the meantime, another factory offered to make the prototype for free, and the quote for production was about half the price. They came through as promised and within two weeks we began production. Prototype in hand and with the experience of success, we approached a packaging factory for the final details, and soon had product on the shelves in souvenir shops across Alaska.
China was quite interesting, and with the cultural differences, there was always something new to experience. There was no such thing as a line in China; it was not uncommon to see a throng of people pressed up to a counter, money in hand. It was the one who could press hardest who would get served next. The Chinese people value fresh food. Once when we were taken to a small remote restaurant for frog legs, the frogs were handpicked from a bag full and their heads were smacked on the floor, killed and cooked in front of us. In the market, you could pick a chicken from rows of cages and they would cut its neck and pluck it so quick that you would be on your way, bird in hand, it being still warm. Most of the markets were quite small. There were shops in every building; you could get everything you needed without leaving your block. The old ladies would sit on the curb selling vegetables, whatever being left for last was brought home to their families for the evening meal and fresh vegetables would be delivered to them from the countryside early the following morning, insuring only that farm fresh foods were always available. Cindy quit her job when I came and we spent every moment together. She was my interpreter and guide as we visited the factories in nearby cities. We were creating our own adventure and having the time of our lives.
When Cindy was nearly eight months pregnant I had to make a trip to Hong Kong for a mandatory exit as required by my visa. She opted to come with me despite the discomforts of pregnancy. Her birthday was quickly approaching, so we planned to celebrate in Hong Kong, and made plans to stay a few nights in a hotel there. The bus ride was long and it was a bumpy ride. In addition, there was a strong smell of exhaust the whole way. It made for a miserable bus ride, for both of us. We were finally settled in to our hotel when Cindy noticed some wetness, and concerned that it may be that her water had broke, we made a trip to the hospital. The doctor did some tests and assured us that everything was ok, so we went back to the hotel. Still the water continued to come slowly and we were faced with a decision of what we should do. Since we did not have enough money for the high cost of a delivery in Hong Kong anyway, we opted to cut our vacation short and cross back into China in case there would be a medical need.
Upon arriving back to Taishan, we went directly to the hospital to get a second opinion. They too ran some tests and assuring us that everything was fine, they sent us home. We were exhausted and went straight to bed. Cindy’s birthday was the next day and the birthday plans were failed. Shortly after midnight, I awoke to find Cindy sitting on the edge of the bed in the middle of a hard contraction. I said to her that she should have woken me up, to which she replied in a belabored tone, “I am not going to have this baby on my birthday!” But there was no stopping him, and he was born at 4:20 that very morning.
We first picked his English name, Jason, meaning “healer”, then chose a Chinese phonetic equivalent, Ze Sen, meaning “watered forest”. Jason was born 5 weeks early and would spend the next 10 days in an incubator. I could not be more delighted, my son was born. My first marriage had ended with the great loss of not being able to raise my three daughters. Their mother had not wanted me in their lives and I regret that they did not have the chance to know how much their father loves them, a loss that I had no interest in repeating. I was happy in the knowledge of Cindy’s love for me and the future of being a daddy to our new son.
Being born outside of the United States, I would need to register his birth at the US Embassy, obtain a certificate of live birth, and apply for a passport on his behalf. All of this I did in the coming months and now with his passport ready to be picked up, I made one last trip to the embassy. Once there, the case worker took my passport with her and disappeared into the back, returning with Jason’s passport and then apologizing to me, she handed me back my passport which had been punched through, leaving a series of holes, rendering my passport cancelled. She explained that an order had come through from the Child Support Enforcement Division to revoke my passport due to being behind on child support from my previous marriage. She explained that she had no choice, apologizing again.
Oh, what a let down. I contacted Child Support Enforcement Division, explaining that I needed a little time due to business taking longer than expected to get up and running. The representative was unsympathetic, and I was forced to return to the United States.