Deliverance from China

Unmarried and pregnant, she knew her options in a land obsessed with population control: Abort or become an outcast. Lijun looked for another way out.

"In America, they've got policies. The government policies protect these women or these babies. They are still legal. But in China there is no protection," she says. "If the person's name is not on the household registration, he's not a person. He has none of the human rights."

Lijun, who had never been outside of China before, reached her conclusion. For her own well-being and that of her future child, she had to get out -- fast.

Lijun recalls dreaming of new lands when she saw an airplane fly overhead.
Phung Huyng
Lijun recalls dreaming of new lands when she saw an airplane fly overhead.

The clock was ticking, and Lijun quickly hit on a solution. She sat down at the keyboard and began a letter to her boss, trying to keep the words from taking on a too-urgent tone.

She asked, Would the company be sending selected employees to the United States as usual, to orient them in operations at headquarters? If so, she would like to participate.

Her boss promptly replied. The program was still active. But there weren't details yet on who would go -- or when. Lijun persisted with letters until her supervisor finally confirmed that a group would soon leave for the States. She would be among them, he said.

Coming one long, horrific month after Lijun first discovered she was pregnant, the timely development struck her as the work of divine intervention.

"Of course, I was very happy," she says. "Everything just workedŠ.I believe that there is God to take care of me. Sometimes you've got to think that."

Lijun's string of good luck continued. In the days that followed, she secured a work visa and a passport -- tough orders for a young single woman in China.

Her boyfriend was greatly relieved when he learned that she would not put him through the travesty of a birth in China. Nevertheless, he continued to argue for an abortion. It got so their time together became unbearable, an angry cycle of argument and recrimination. She quit seeing him.

Lijun says she just had too many pressing worries to allow herself to crash and burn with a relationship spiraling out of control. She faced uncertainties ahead in a country that she knew only through colleagues' yarns and slick pop culture images. Worse, she would be leaving behind her elderly parents, siblings and lifelong friends. And hovering over her final weeks was the fear that at any moment she could be "exposed" and punished.

During those emotionally perilous days, her unknowing parents helped her more than they ever realized. They were supportive of her trip. The old-timers imagined their daughter would encounter tremendous opportunities in America. They offered strong opinions about what sorts of things one should and shouldn't pack for such a journey.

"They thought I should bring more clothes. They thought if I've gotten to a new country I don't need to spend a lot of money on clothes," she says, laughing. "I wanted to bring a lot of books."

The debate led to bags getting unpacked and repacked over and over. Through the antics, Lijun felt deeply bothered that she couldn't be straight with her parents about the real motive for the trip. Deep down she felt it was best for them to remain ignorant.

She says those days sometimes overwhelmed her. She sought solace at a Buddhist temple on a nearby hilltop. Her only choice was to endure the tough times stoically and stay focused on the future -- lessons straight from the plucky American heroine Scarlett O'Hara.

"I like the character in Gone with the Wind. I love that lady very much. Probably she's not so perfect, not like every person prefers a lady should be -- graceful, nice. But she can always find a way to survive," Lijun says.

It was raining on the day Lijun left China. The previous night she had dropped off a letter of resignation at her office. She felt awful about letting down a company that had been so good to her, but she needed to break from her past and prepare for the birth.

She and her parents spoke few words at the airport, each weathering the sorrow and excitement of her departure in their own manner. With a final hug and a couple of quick glances back, Lijun boarded the plane that would take her to a new life. Hours later she enjoyed the excitement of the plane descending over America.

"I saw the fields and the houses are just like the chessboard. That's very funny, very beautiful, not like China -- very different. But it looks like this place has been very well organized -- everything's under control."

In the airport, she marveled at the colorful shops and many places to eat. Waiting for her connecting flight, Lijun happened upon an elderly American couple munching from their bags of popcorn, and asked where she could buy some. But the vendor was on the other side of the airport, so there wasn't time. However, the man insisted that Lijun take his popcorn, despite her protests.

"The gentleman said, 'You can have mine. I can share with my wife,' " she recalls with a smile. "That's a very nice experience when I first got here."

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