From: kippa on 24 Aug 2009 10:46
A new mission to China
An Easton woman helps her adopted son trace his birth parents and
the contradictions of his mysterious youth
By Scott Calvert | scott.calvert(a)baltsun.com
August 23, 2009
EASTON - The boy was near age 6 when he was abandoned in 1998.
Police found him under a bridge in Luoyang, a city in eastern China.
Unable to learn how he got there or where he came from, officers
deposited him at a busy orphanage in town.
That was the story Julia Norris heard two years later, in June 2000,
when she visited the orphanage. That was still the story in April
2001, when she returned to adopt the boy and bring him to America. And
it remained the story this spring as Christian Norris finished 10th
grade at Easton High School, where he plays lacrosse and has a crew of
Then, in late May came the e-mail that suddenly recast the narrative
of his young life. Christian had not been abandoned. No, he'd simply
gotten lost, the result of a tragic mistake. So said the boy's birth
parents. And now they very much wanted to meet the young man.
They'll get that chance this week when Julia and Christian Norris
journey to China for an unlikely reunion. Christian is excited - after
all, it was his idea to search for his birth parents - but anxious,
too. Will everyone get along? Are his birth parents telling the truth,
or have they changed their story now that they've been found?
"I still don't know what to believe," he said last week in his
family's living room. "It's hard for me to trust them after all this
Julia Norris thinks the visit will go well. She thinks it will enable
her son to reconnect with his Chinese roots even as he keeps growing
up an all-American boy with dreams of becoming a Navy SEAL. She says
she doesn't feel that it threatens at all the mother-son bond she has
formed with Christian, 17. She is relieved that everyone seems to
agree that Maryland is his home.
Back in 2000, Norris had gone to China on a mission trip through her
employer, the America World Adoption Agency. Volunteers painted walls
and held babies. One day, 30 kids were chosen for a trip to the local
zoo. Norris happened to pair up with Christian, then named Jiacheng.
"He just captured my heart that day," she said, "especially when he
He played with her camera. At lunchtime he acted like a gentleman,
refilling her soda and moving her purse off the floor.
Today, Christian can recall the zoo. But he comes up blank on how he'd
reached that overpass two years earlier. It's as if a part of the tape
has been erased from memory. All he can picture is a bus and a man
giving him food and cash. The man might have been his birth father, or
maybe just a kind stranger.
"I just didn't know what happened," he said, the frustration evident
in his teenage mumble. "It was a mystery to me, what happened to me."
Why did he not tell the police his name and hometown? Time has not
filled in that gap, either.
"I can't remember."
According to Julia Norris, the police report described him as being in
shock and unable to speak. As required, the orphanage placed ads in
the local newspaper before the boy could be adopted. But she said the
police are responsible for conducting investigations and they
apparently did not try very hard.
"They never, to my knowledge, went back and tried to ask more of him -
you know, give him a little time to calm down," Norris said.
Adding to the oddness was his gender. In China, about 95 percent of
those put up for adoption are girls. For cultural reasons, boys are
prized, and the country's one-child policy has led to the abandonment
of many girls. (In 2004, Norris adopted one such girl, an infant she
named Madison.) Special-needs boys sometimes end up in orphanages, but
that did not apply here.
Could Christian really have been abandoned? Even as a young boy, he
had happy memories that predated the orphanage. He ate noodles that
were hung to dry. He lived on a farm with a water well and yaks and
mountains in the distance. At a minimum, the memory fragments raised
questions about what had happened.
Over the years, as Christian spoke of his early recollections, Norris
took notes. One day, she told him, you might want to look for your
birth parents. She would gladly help. He was in middle school when he
announced that he was ready to search.
Norris, a 42-year-old Eastern Shore native, knew a thing or two about
finding people. She says on the adoption agency Web site that she
spent 10 years as a federal and private investigator and worked for
television's "America's Most Wanted."
But her lack of Chinese language skills hobbled her online sleuthing.
This year she found the Web site of a Chinese nonprofit group called
Baby Come Home, which helps find children swept up in child
trafficking or abductions. Using Google, she translated the Web site
and fired off an e-mail.
To her surprise, someone at the nonprofit not only replied but offered
to put out the word to its army of volunteers.
Norris shared much of what her son remembered. That included the name
of the farm village where he had lived and the names of two people in
a nearby city he considered step-parents. Her name was Shao Julian and
his was Jing Gaokuan, and Christian thought they were doctors. The boy
had lived with them for a short while in a small city after leaving
the farm and not long before his strange odyssey to Luo- yang's
The volunteers tried using some of these tidbits - the noodle-hanging,
the yaks, the mountains - as cultural or topographical clues. They
eliminated certain regions but could not pinpoint the location. China
is a vast country with a vast countryside.
Then someone tried a basic tack: running Shao's name through Google.
Bingo. A Shao Julian had co-written a paper for a medical journal, and
her co-author was one Jin Gaoke - very close to Jing Gaokuan.
On May 30, Norris got an e-mail from China.
"I believe we locate the 'step-parents,' " wrote a Chinese volunteer
who went by Catherine. But the e-mail was not conclusive, in part
because Jin was demanding to see a picture of Jiacheng - Christian -
as a young boy.
Norris felt her heart race as she read the message but did not dare
tell her son yet.
The next morning, a Sunday, another e-mail from Catherine arrived. She
had sent Jin a photo, and he said he was sure it was Jiacheng. Jin had
explained to Catherine that the birth parents were actually his
younger brother, Jin Xiaowang, and his brother's wife, who lived in a
Jin said the boy had a hidden scar where a candle had burned him - and
Norris says Christian has just such a scar on his thigh.
As if that were not enough for Norris to take in, the e-mail described
Jin's account of how the boy wound up alone in Luoyang. The man said
that he had put little Jiacheng in a seat on a bus because they were
going to visit relatives in the village. Jin and a friend hopped off
the bus to duck into a market.
"After they returned from the vegetable market within 5 minutes,"
Catherine wrote, "there was no bus at all."
Jin told the volunteer that he had noticed the provincial code on the
bus license plate and went to the province in a futile bid to find the
boy. Whether he or other family members kept searching, and for how
long, is unclear. Meanwhile, Jiacheng ended up 350 miles east in
Luoyang. That's where the boy remembered a man giving him food and
money, though to this day he has no idea who that man might have been.
Norris, who was "pretty much convinced" by Jin's explanation, went
upstairs and woke Christian.
"We found your birth parents," she remembers saying. Mother and son
cried in his bed.
When his Chinese relatives sent snapshots of Christian with his family
taken in the 1990s, his doubts vanished.
"I didn't believe it until I saw the pictures," Christian said last
week. "I was just happy, I guess. A big relief - just to find them."
On that day in late May, Norris asked him if he wanted to visit China.
He replied emphatically that he did. So they agreed to go, even though
she is still struggling to find the money.
In the weeks since, other pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place,
according to Norris. Contrary to what Jin initially wrote, he and Shao
are indeed the true birth parents. Norris is not sure why he did not
tell the truth. But she said she has learned that the couple had an
older son and sent Jiacheng to live in the village, perhaps to avoid
running afoul of the one-child policy. There, he was raised by the
uncle he thought of as his father.
At some point, the boy was sent to the city of Longde to attend school
and live with his birth parents. Christian vaguely recalls their
apartment. Mainly what he remembers is missing his father-figure
uncle: "I always wanted to go back to the village because that was my
dad." It was on just such a bus trip, in Jin's telling, that he was
Last month, Jin and Shao wrote Norris a letter warmly thanking her for
her "selfless love" for Christian. They shared the news that Shao is
being treated for breast cancer, adding some urgency to the trip.
They said that hearing about their son has let them "see the sunlight"
after 10 years of feeling guilty.
Addressing him, they wrote: "Both your mother and I miss you very much
and please forgive us for not taking good care of you and making you
suffer the trauma when you were a small child."
The birth parents ended on a positive note. "Our reunion is upcoming,
and let's forget the past, focus on the present and have a happy
Christian shares the desire for a happy reunion. He hasn't thought
about what he'll say or ask, though it will all have to go through an
interpreter because he says he has entirely forgotten Chinese.
"I hope it goes well and everyone gets along," he said. "Whatever
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