Adjusting To China: The Struggle of Anna Mae He's Whole Family

(DWnews)  Adjusting To China: The Struggle of Anna Mae He's Whole Family - Part 1.  December 28, 2008.  By Lu Xianxiu.

[interview with Casey He, in translation]

"Do you regret going with mom?"  Sometimes I ask her.  "No, I love mom."  She shook her head and said.

[Editor: Since returning to China in February, the He family has gone through many challenges.  "After we returned to China, our family had to go through a process of adjustment.  In the first several months, there really were some conflicts.  In this new environment, the family members have to adjust to each other."  Jack He said.  Casey He has separated from her husband and is bringing up the three children herself.  She thought that "when the father is a bad role model, then we are better off not living with him."

This kind of family situation seems to imply that Anna Mae He is having problems adjusting to China, as reported in the American media.  People even asked: Are the biological parents the best prospects for the children?  Does returning to China mean that there is a happy ending?  DWnews interviewed Jack and Casey He in this two-part story.]

Recently, some friends showed me the American news reports.  I could not sleep well for several nights as I mulled over these things.  I only want the children to live peaceful lives.  The Associated Press interview was initiated by Jack He on his own.  Like the Chongqing Evening News report <Jack He wants to divorce his Chongqing wife>, I am worried that this will hurt the children.

The report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal appears to imply that the judge's decision was a mistake.  But I feel that only a biological mother will make sacrifices for the children.  It is unfortunate that these things occurred to our family.  This is not what I want.  But the children have shelter, food and clothes by staying with me.  They have stable lives.  They are happy to be with me.  They receive good education.  As a mother, I feel that I have infinite courage and hope.

When we returned to Chongqing, we stayed at my younger brother's home.  The living expenses and tuition fees of the children were paid for by my younger brother.  I am obviously feeling the pressure.  I am not lazy and I have been looking for a job ever since.  But China lacks everything except for manpower.  I am forty years old now.  Someone told me, "People retire in their 30's nowadays.  Why is a 40-year-old person still looking for a job?"

Our family only had two children (me and my younger brother), so we are very close to each other.  My younger brother runs a small business and he is not wealthy.  But he is a man with a sense of responsibility.  He only told me: "You take care of the children, and that is the most important thing."

We are not wealthy.  We use old furniture.  But I am doing my best to make sure that my children have the best learning environment.  Previously, Anna Mae only wanted to play electronic games when she came home.  I often told her, "What Mom dislikes most is you playing those games."  When we were in America, I found out that everyone in the family has short fingers except for Anna Mae.  Therefore, I think that she should learn to play the piano.

"Mom has some money now.  We can use it to buy a television set.  But if we buy a television set, we cannot buy a piano.  What do you think?"  "Let me think about it.  If we don't buy a television set, you cannot watch television."  "Mom is not important.  The important person is you."

Anna Mae He wanted to learn to play the piano.  When she first started to learn, she could not play any tunes and so she got bored.  "I don't want to learn anymore ..."  "Anna, you promised mom that you are going to seriously learn it, and that is why I bought a piano for you."  But now she knows how to play and she has greater interested.  I am very comforted to listen to her play some simple songs.

Of the the three children, Anna Mae plays the piano, the younger sister dances and the younger brother was learning martial arts before but now plays basketball.  The younger brother likes to play the trumpet, but I think that is too noisy.  So I told him to learn the saxophone, but he does not like it.  So he now learns to play the flute at school.  Every Friday, I have a teacher to teach Anna Mae and her younger sister to play the piano.  Every Saturday, a teacher teaches Chinese to Anna Mae.  On Sunday, I want to let them learn drawing.

On the days when they don't have to attend school, I will take them to visit their uncle.  The uncle has two children.  He would take them to go horseback riding and mountain climbing.  On National Day, we went together to a musical concert.  After the earthquake, many people lost their homes.  I feel that my children are more open and mature compared to when they were in America.  I took them to climb the Ermei Mountain.  They went up and down on their own strengths, and they did not complain about being tired.

When I speak to Anna Mae, I don't treat her like a child.  She says that when she grows up, she wants to be a doctor.  One time, she heard about the War in Iraq on radio.  She said that she hates war.

"If you become a doctor, you can help hundreds or even thousands of people in your lifetime.  But if you become the president, you can stop this war."  I told her.

"We must support Hillary because she is the first female president.  I want to become the second female president!"  Anna Mae said.

I told her that "Bill Clinton's dad passed away while his mom was pregnant with him.  Obama's dad was like your father.  He was a foreign student, who then left his family without assuming his responsibility.  They all became presidents later.  When we were in difficulty, many people helped us.  Mom hopes that you can help other people some day."

The three children are studying at a boarding school.  I did not want that.  After we returned to China, we went from Changsha city to Chongqing city, and Anna Mae changed schools three times.  When we first arrived in Chongqing, they attended an international school which only accepts children with foreign passports.  But the tuition was too expensive.  This is a temporary situation.  If our economic situation improves, I still hope that they can attend the American international school and receive an American education.

The children do not know the Chinese language well.  At the previous school, I had to tutor them with their homework after school.  I spend more than an hour each day with Anna Mae, and I still had to cook.  Even though I hired a teacher for the weekend, it was still too much.  Anna Mae's grades were falling behind not because she was not trying, but because she was facing a new language and getting discouraged.  There was a time when she did not even want to go to school.

My younger brother thought that I was spoiling the children.  He recommended that I should place them at a boarding school first so that they can learn to take care of themselves.  The three children know how to fold their own blankets and wash their underwear.  There are just over 20 children per class, and so the teacher can pay more attention to individual students.  The pressure of learning is also less.  I think that if they have more contact with other children, it will be help them to learn Chinese and adjust to the environment in China.

The school is more than 10 minutes from home by bus.  But the buses run infrequently.  Apart from taking the children home for the weekend, I visit the children three times a week at the school.  Usually, I bring them some fruits, milk and laundered clothing when they have dinner at 5pm.  Sometimes, I eat with them.

There was another girl named Sarah in Anna Mae's class who grew up in America.  Now there is a little boy from South Africa.  The two sit together and keep each other company.  The boy is better in Chinese and can translate the teacher's words for Anna Mae.

The classroom of the younger brother is next to Anna Mae's.  The school arranged it that way so that he can help his sister anytime.  The younger sister stays in the same bedroom as Anna Mae and they can look after each other.  Sometimes Anna Mae might say, "Mom, please don't go or else I'll be unhappy."  So I stay at the dormitory until they finish their evening studies, eat their fruits, take their baths and go to bed before I leave.

The three children are in third, second and first grades respectively.  Their best subject is English.  The younger brother was best with arithmetic in America, but he has slipped backwards after returning to China.  The younger brother and sister had attended Chinese-language school in America, but that was all for play.  After returning to China, the younger brother got 7 marks in his first exam, 17 marks in his second exam, 46 marks in his third exam and 61 marks in his fourth exam.  I told the teacher that many Chinese children did not know even a single English word when they arrive in America, but they manage to catch up later.

At the moment, the younger brother and sister can compete recitation of text and they are getting more interested in the Chinese language.  Anna Mae has more difficulties and I need to read out the words to her one by one.  Anna Mae got all A's in America.  After she returned to China, she stayed behind one grade and started from second grade.  She does not even have the foundation of first grade.  But I am not worried about Anna Mae because she is very smart.

Last Saturday, the teacher gave Anna Mae an assignment of writing a fairy tale.  She chose to write about the duck on a weight-loss diet.  "A little duck was getting too fat and the doctor told him to do more exercises ..."  I saw that she is making even fewer spelling mistakes than her younger brother.  Her grammar is also fluent, so she is trying very hard.  She used to say, "Mom, the Chinese language is too hard.  I don't want to learn it."  Now, she sometimes even help to lecture her younger siblings: "If you don't study hard, you won't find a good job in the future!"

I am presently separated from Jack He.  He sometimes sends a SMS over when a child is having a birthday.  I don't think that the children are my private property.  Sometimes, I ask the children: "Do you miss dad?  If so, I can take you to see him."  But they all say that they don't miss him.  I have asked them "if mom and dad should divorce, but that would mean that they won't have a dad."  They said, "We don't want dad."

Actually Dad spoils the children even more.  Sometimes when the children misbehave, I am the one to threaten them with punishment.  When the children are small, they may not say anything but they will use their eyes to observe.  One day, my son was talking to his cousin and suddenly said, "My dad is a professor."  The cousin asked him: "Do you miss your dad?"  He said: "No.  But your dad is better than mine."

Jack He has three masters degrees and he is better educated than I am.  He was a prodigy, because he entered university at age 14.  But when someone's intelligence quotient is high, the emotion quotient may be lower by comparison.  I had to shoulder all these things that happened, but I never quarreled with him.  Sometimes I feel that I am more like the man in this family.  Someone once said that I have four children, one of whom is Jack He.  In order to maintain this home, I forgave him over and over again.  I can only say that a person who does not know how to feel sorry will never grow up.

There is a lot of pressure on me bringing up three children on my own.  But I have never complained and I have never appealed to society for help.  Jack He is a person who cannot persist when he encounters hardship.  I tell my children, "Your mom is like a mountain against which you can lean on."  I think that if Dad is being a bad role model, we are better off living without him.

Anna Mae He likes to talk with the Bakers, who sent many presents from Amreica.  Although the Bakers say that they want to come to China to see Anna Mae, they have spent their family assets on the lawsuits.  Today, Mr. Baker is staying home looking after children while Mrs. Baker works at a supermarket at US$8 per hour.  The airplane tickets would be a huge burden to them.

The children sometimes think about America.  I would take them to eat at McDonald's, or buy some toys that they had before in America.  Anna Mae likes to read fairy tales.  Since the libraries here only have Chinese-language books, I sometimes take them to bookstores to get some used English-language books.

I don't feel that it was a mistake to leave America at all.  It is a good thing to be in China as well.  The children were born in America, and they were obviously influenced more by American culture.  Although Anna Mae won't say that she likes China, I don't think it matters as I won't impose my likes and dislikes on her.

I don't know what the future will bring.  But the children are good at adapting, and it will be helpful to them to have some experience in China.  When they reach 18 years old, they can make their own choice.  Before that happens, I will do my best to provide them with a good environment.

Although many unfortunate things have happened to me, I feel that I should actively face each day and bring good news to my children.  My goal right down is to take of the children, to make them happy and open, to give them the ability to deal with social pressures and to have a bright future.  That is my greatest wish.   (To be continued with Part 2 tomorrow)

"There is a lot of pressure on me bringing up three children on my own.
But I have never complained and I have never appealed to society for help."

(DWnews)  Adjusting To China: The Struggle of Anna Mae He's Whole Family - Part 2.  December 29, 2008.  By Lu Xianxiu.

[interview with Jack He, in translation]

Q: What do you think about the recent reports from America on Anna Mae He?
A: The Associated Press reporter came to Chongqing and spent three days there, interviewing me, Casey, the three children and the school teachers.  If they really wanted to have an objective report, they would not have written what was eventually published.  They came here with a pre-determined position and they were particularly interested in the negative aspects to the point of exaggeration.  They wanted to please their readers by proving that Anna Mae He could not adjust to China after her return, and that her living conditions are terrible.
I especially resented the part of the report where a worm was found in the food that Anna Mae was eating at school.  I was present at the scene, and I did not see any worm.  Even if there is a worm, it is not so surprising in China.  Furthermore, the bilingual boarding school came through as if it was a prison in which Anna Mae had no freedom and could not communicate with fellow students.  The teacher said that Anna Mae scored 97 marks in the English oral competition.  This is in marked contrast with her previous shy self and represents a vast improvement.  The report made no mention of that.  They also ignored the fact that the parents are trying their best to provide the children with the best education.
The article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal was an editorial written by the chief editor.  This local Memphis newspaper said that the judge had made a mistake and reckoned that Anna Mae He is living in abject poverty in China.

Q: According to the reports, Anna Mae He does not like to live at the school, she is lonely there and she does not like China?
A: That depends on the reporter's attitude in posing those questions.  Anna Mae is somewhat shy and she does not know how to respond to these adult ideas.  Based upon my observation, Anna Mae is making a transition from being in an unfamiliar, strange place to liking China.  She is increasingly accepting China.  But at the moment, she is still more familiar with American life.
Anna Mae cannot be said to be lonely.  I spoke with her classmates and teachers.  They all like her.  She can understand a lot of Chinese, but she has some difficulty speaking Chinese.  Also, the report said that she was dropped from 4th grade to 3rd grade. In truth, this was a decision that I and Casey made on the basis of her language level and adjustment.  It was not because she could not keep up, or because the school forced her.

Q: Casey told Associated Press that she is worried that she can't find work if she returns to America.  This summer, you also told the American media: It was a mistake to return to China, but Memphis citizens must provide help if you are to return to America.  What is your thinking on this issue?
A: The reporters were selectively manipulating what we said in order to create the misunderstanding that we wanted to return to America.  The reason why Casey and I said those things was not based upon our personal interests.  In truth, everything that we said was based upon certain assumptions.  What I said in July was that I personally feel that the quality of life is better in China than America in terms of work and family relationships.  In America, I always felt that I was working illegally against the immigration laws.  But we now have three children in the family, and they have certain problems adjusting to China.  The children do not understand the immigration laws and they can't see why we can't just go back to America from China.  I hope that I can have the freedom to take the children back to America once a year.  That might help them.

Q: As the father, how do you see the challenges that Anna Mae He faces after she returned to China?
A:  Anna Mae is a smart child.  She believes that she has the freedom to return to America, but there seems to be some restrictions.  Also, there are changes in her lifestyle and language.  It should not be hard for an 8- or 9-year-old child to learn a new language.  The reason why she has such a hard time with learning Chinese is that she resents it from the beginning.  The Bakers had instilled negative opinions about Chinese culture and people.  For example, when they see Chinese people in the street, they tell her about "those terrible Chinese people."  This caused her to be afraid.
It is very hard to explain to her in worlds.  We cannot just tell her "We are your parents and this is China."   We take her to travel to the Great Wall, the Changjiang river, and other places in order to understand Chinese history.  I and Casey will also try to teach the children how to take care of each other and use the family relationship to change her views about the Chinese culture and people.  Furthermore, we cultivate her interests through Chinese music, dance, art and so on.  When we found out that she liked music and painting, we let her learn to play the piano.  We hired a piano teacher who speaks English and had stayed in America before.

Q: Shortly after the Associated Press reporter left, CNN also dispatched someone to Chongqing to interview Anna Mae He.  How do you and Casey feel about exposing the children to the media attention?
A: When I communicate with the media, I always tell them that I hope that they will report the reality in an accurate manner.  In order to protect the children, I offered these conditions to CNN: They cannot interview the children, they cannot ask Anna Mae He whether she prefers America or China or stuff like that; they can interview the teachers and the classmates; they can visit the home but not as media reporters; they cannot bring their cameras but they can observe as friends.  Also we thought that the recent American reports were distorting the facts, including the living and educational conditions of the children as to whether they are normal or impoverished in China.  I hope that CNN can present the truth and paint a more positive portrait.  They accepted that.
The CNN reporter asked me and Casey repeatedly: "Is it hard to live in China?  Is the quality of life lower than in America?  What about healthcare for the children?  Are there pressures in your work and salary?"  I emphasized repeatedly that we are satisfied in terms of local conditions.  The Chinese government also care about us and help me find work.
I am presently at a science-and-technology university in Changsha.  I teach international commercial law using English to fourth-year students.  Through the Hunan government, I have a part-time job with the Global Education and Technology Group as a "star teacher" to explain the English-language test.  My income in China is decent.

Q: You had asked for a divorce with 100,000 yuan in alimony?  What is your current relationship?
A: After we got back to China, our family had to go through a process of adjustment.  Several months ago, there were some conflicts.  But things have improved a great deal over the past two weeks.  When we move into a new environment, the whole family has to adjust.  For example, Casey does not like Hunan because she has no relatives there and the dialect is different.  But I grew up there and I particularly like Hunan.
It is true that divorce was proposed, but there is something that people did not notice.  It was in May and I went to work.  Casey took the children and left for Chongqing without telling anyone.  We did not quarrel that time.  Casey could not adapt to life there.  I was angry and I called her up to scold her.  Because I was angry, I proposed a divorce.  I had no real cause, but I wanted to give her a warning.  I demanded an alimony while knowing full well that she did not have that kind of money.  I wanted to make it hard for her and therefore she will change her mind.  But she has a strong personality, and this ruse did not work.  In the end, I backed off and I apologized to her.
During the process, we protected the children by not letting them know about the divorce.  Finally, I told her: "I was wrong.  Please forgive me."  In China, there is a saying: "A brief separation is even better than a new marriage."  Sometimes, a brief separation can actually increase mutual understanding.

Q: What do you think about the report in <Family> monthly magazine?
A: They did not interview me for that report.  Afterwards, I asked Casey.  She said that the interview was arranged through her lawyer who wanted some self-advertisement.  Casey also admitted that she spoke in anger.
Casey and the children are staying in Chongqing right now.  The goal is to provide better educational opportunities for the children.  Chongqing is an international city, and the quality of the bilingual schools are better than in Changsha.  The children cannot be without a father.  I am thinking that after this semester is over, I want to see if there is any opportunity for me to teach at the Global Education & Technology Group in Chongqing and have a family reunion.  I believe that things will get better if our entire family can be together.

Q: How is the contact between Anna Mae He and the Bakers?
A: It was my idea to let Anna Mae stay in contact with the Bakers.  But when we got back to China, Casey thought that the timing was not right yet.  Once they got to Chongqing, I went to the ABC reporter and arranged for the two sides to get into contact again.  I thought that I want to nurture Anna Mae's love and not hatred for other other people.  I encourage her to speak boldly to the Bakers.  I told her clearly that if her love for the Bakers is natural, then it cannot hurt our family.  I also ask the Bakers to encourage Anna Mae to study Chinese harder and accept being in China.

Related Link: Anna Mae He Is Not Coming Home