Our sweet friends the Whirleys hosted and advocated for Jason, a then-12-year-old orphan from China, in December 2016. In March 2018, this family traveled to China to bring this now 14-year-old boy home forever. We asked Hunter Whirley, an amazing tell-it-like-it-is Army combat veteran, to share with us the journey to Jason from an adoptive father’s perspective. Warning: This is not yo' mama's travel log. This is Hunter's [sometimes spicy, sometimes sassy but always straight-up] story. We're so grateful to him for sharing his unique perspective.
Read Part 1 HERE.
Read Part 2 HERE.
Read Part 3 HERE.
Read Part 4 HERE.
Our group of pale faces and adopted kids had a full day.
We started with getting the children in to take their physicals.
“Everybody pull out your children’s shot records,” our guide, Ms. Kelly, said.
Ms. Liz searched our “Every Document Under the Sun” folder … and checked it again. Then she frantically searched it again.
“Kelly, I can’t find his shot record,” Liz said, obviously terrified.
“It looks like this,” Kelly said, holding up a little yellow booklet.
“We didn’t get one of those,” Liz said, even more panicked.
“It’s okay,” Kelly said. “I will call his orphanage, and if they don’t have it, Jason will just get a few more shots.”
This hurt Liz’s mommy heart.
I was unfazed.
Heck, teenage boys get tons of shots all the time. It’s called Basic training. And when I say tons of shots, I mean line up, roll your sleeves up, walk past some nurses, get jabbed a dozen times and leave with your arms dripping blood. I’m pretty sure that kind of stuff builds character — and immunities — but mostly character.
We herded all the chickens onto a minibus and headed to the clinic. What I saw there amazed me. The efficiency of Chinese medicine was in full swing. Regardless of age, squirming, anxiety or reservations, kids of all ages were hustled through eye and ear exams, basic physicals, bloodwork and shots.
Chinese medicine may not be the best, but their throughput is impressive.
Ms. Liz is a medical nerd, so she wanted to be a part of all that Jason was going through. She tried to talk to the doctor about all of Jason’s conditions. Instead, he looked at Jason’s chart and motioned for her to sit down.
His look said it all: “You see how many kids I have to look at today? Ain’t nobody got time for all that talking.”
He waved for me to come behind the curtain and observe Jason’s physical. The whole time Liz questioned me from the other side of the curtain.
Liz: “What’s he doing now?”
Me: “Checking his knees.”
Liz: “Well tell him about blah, blah, blah. What’s he doing now?”
Me: Ignoring wife’s previous instructions. “Checking out his extra fingers and toes.”
Liz: “Well tell him it’s indicative of blah, blah, blah.”
Me: Shakes head behind curtain.
Liz: “What’s he doing now?”
Me: “Checking out his man-giblets … you got anything you want to add to this part?”
Liz: Comments redacted.
All told, the physical took less than five minutes. The paperwork was stamped. Good to go. The only stop left was bloodwork and shots. This troubled Jason, as Kelly had informed him that without shot records, he would require more immunizations.
“Mom, how many shots?” Jason asked through Google Translate.
“Not that many,” Liz said, trying to calm him.
“Twenty-five,” I told him, showing him on fingers.
“You’re a REDACTED,” Liz said, shaking her head, already using her phone to tell Jason that he would not be getting that many shots.
Fortunately, Kelly came to the rescue. Jason’s orphanage faxed his immunization record. Only four shots would be required. Jason looked relieved.
See, you tell a kid he’s going to get 25 shots and four doesn’t seem so bad. It’s all about expectation management … and, yes, I know I am a REDACTED.
With all the kids squalling from being poked and prodded, we climbed aboard the minibus. That afternoon, we took the kids to a major attraction, a garden. I was less than enthusiastic.
“Oooh, aaahhh, red flowers, white flowers. Oh look, a tree, never seen one of those before.”
It was okay … I guess. The landscaping was immaculate. Amazing what you can do with an endless supply of cheap labor. There were hedges sculpted into dragons, or lions, or something. A herd of ceramic goats rowed a boat … apparently the lack of thumbs was not an issue.
Bizarre, brightly-colored plastic animals, mushrooms and plants festooned the walkways. This place was like Alice in Wonderland taking an acid-laced trip in China.
Jason and Liz liked it, though. Jason, ever the good big brother, pushed the smaller adoptees in strollers. He even looked after the 3-year-old I dubbed “The Bullet.” The kid’s only goal was to get away from his father and RUN. No direction, no reason. He would just Forrest Gump it whenever he could.
Jason worked up a good sweat by the time we left.
“Moooom, Daaaaad,” he said, pointing at his tablet with a translation for us to read. “Tired, not watching kids anymore.”
I laughed and gave him a thumbs-up.
The following day we went to the U.S. Consulate. This was one of the last steps, one that would ensure Jason’s U.S. Citizenship the moment his feet touched American soil. We passed through metal detectors, turned in our cell phones and walked through reinforced Class III bullet-resistant glass. Then we boarded an elevator and stepped into utter chaos.
Two dozen families filled a way-too-small room. American kids made racket. Chinese kids made racket. American parents chased children of all nationalities, pleading with them not to throw stuff, stab each other with crayons, color on walls and stop screaming.
From what looked like bank teller windows, American Embassy interns mumbled unintelligible things through their speakers. Families strained to hear their names called above the ruckus.
Leave it to Americans to have the most chaotic, unorganized step in the adoption process.
Finally, we were called up to our window. Jason confirmed that he was not being kidnapped and that he wanted to go to America.
As far as the U.S. Government was concerned, it was a done deal, and we could finally leave the mayhem of the adoption services room.
That afternoon we went to ANOTHER garden. At its center was a huge sculpture of four goats. As the story goes, the gods came down to bless the region and bring it out of famine. After ensuring there would never be another famine, the gods went back home, leaving their goats as a statue. Sounds legit.
Of more interest was a group of people playing hacky sack, or as it is called in China, jianzi. Instead of being played with a ball, the Chinese played with a shuttlecock. We were invited to play. Not being a dirty hippie or having played soccer (Commie kick-ball), I was not too good at the game, but I had a good time kicking the bejeezes out of the shuttlecock when it came my way.
It’s important to note that the folks playing jianzi were not our age. Most were 50+-years-old. Some were in their 70s. Pretty impressive.
After visiting the goat-statue-thing we went to a local market. There, we found my favorite shop of all with buckets loaded full of “Oh, H--- NO!”
I wondered what the kids were all crowded around so intently. It was buckets full of scorpions. The little brown “stings-like-a-mother-trucker” kind and the big “looks-worse-than-they-are” variety.
Y’all please pray for the people of China. They eat scorpions. Something’s not right there!
While Jason was peering intently into one of the buckets, I grabbed him by his shoulders and gave a little push. What? I held onto him so he wouldn’t actually go forward.
Jason turned into a spider monkey. He turned around and wrapped my legs up in a flash.
“No, no, no!” he said, giggling.
When he finally untangled himself from my legs, I made a big show of trying to buy a sack of scorpions.
“I want 50 of them,” I said. “Lots of them. The boy will eat them.”
Jason understood enough to start slapping my hands as I gestured, telling the lady selling scorpions that he WOULD NOT be eating any. In return, the lady held out a scorpion toward Jason with her long chopsticks.
That was the breaking point. Jason made a dash straight to Liz, pointing at me.
“No, no no!” was all he said.
“Hunter!” Liz said. “Stoppit! I swear I can’t take you anywhere.”
“Imagine all the cool stuff I’d get if you weren’t here,” I replied.
Liz mumbled something. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “of all the men out there, I’m grateful to be married to you.”
That night we went out to a restaurant with one of the other families. They are absolutely wonderful people, a couple with grown children who chose to adopt. (Not me, once I kick ‘em all out, I’m done!)
The kid they adopted is a hoot, an irrepressibly happy 9-year-old boy who did not let physical challenges slow him down, EVER. He was always smiling, cute, extroverted. He paired well with Jason, bringing our reserved kid a little more out of his shell.
When we ordered, his father said: “Well, I wonder what we are all getting to eat?”
“Ummm, noodles, that’s what I ordered.”
“No, bro, he orders for the table,” my buddy said, pointing at his new son. “We obviously don’t speak Chinese, but he does. Last night he ordered spaghetti. After he finished it, I told him to get ready to go, but he said, ‘No, what about my burger?’ Sure enough, the waitress dropped a burger on the table and he ate most of that, too. Every meal he orders appetizers, a couple of main dishes, and dessert. He just shares with everyone.”
Sure enough, chicken wings, a hummus-type-dish and spring rolls came out. Little man divvied them all out amongst the table. Jason looked at the little boy, amazed he did not get in trouble for ordering so much.
Unthinkable in his mind.
We all just smiled and ate our portions. All the stuff he ordered was great.
“You know, it’s going to be really tough on little man when he gets to America and I can understand what he’s ordering,” my buddy said.
Smart sir, picking your battles. Right now you’re on his turf.