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Chinese culture embraced by Canadian adoptive family
Updated: 2009-11-17 10:25

VANCOUVER: The Duffys' house on the west side of Vancouver has a red-painted door with two stone lions on each side. Inside are rooms decorated with cloisonne, paper-cut, wash paintings, a lion dance mask, embroidery and other examples of Chinese cultural heritage.

The Caucasian owners have arranged the surroundings for their daughters, Charlotte, 7, and Georgia, 5, to live in. Adopted from Chinese orphanages, the two girls have been part of Canadian society for years, but still retain a strong connection with the culture of their birth place.

"It's very important," adoptive mother Susan told Xinhua. "When they get to be adults, they will, may well question, why were they taken from their country of birth. And it's very important to make sure that we do absolutely everything to get that culture in their lives."


When the Duffys decided to adopt a child, they found it was a "natural calling" for them to go to China. Part of the reason was that the couple worked in Canadian branches of HSBC, a banking group headquartered in London, where they had many Chinese-speaking colleagues and clients. Chinese culture was very much part of their lives and work, Susan said.

When 9-month-old Charlotte first came to this family in 2003, Susan, then 40, made a "wonderful sacrifice" by quitting her job with HSBC to ensure the little baby would be looked after in a stable and caring living environment.

Meanwhile, changes have been continuously rolling out to the interior style of the family home. Susan and her husband, Eamon, brought lots of decorations back to Vancouver from their two Chinese trips of adoption. They also like to go to Chinatown in Vancouver to buy furniture and other Chinese-style things.

Their collection is growing and everything is on display. To add to the family's Chinese style, Eamon artfully pasted Chinese wash paintings from used calendars on the doors of a cupboard.

Not surprisingly, when some of their friends of Chinese origin came to the house, they said "your house is more Chinese than mine," according to Susan. "Having lots of Chinese culture in our house is very important," she said. "We really do like all of the things we have that are Chinese."


Chinese language appears to be a huge gift Susan has been trying to bring to the kids. Charlotte has been learning Mandarin for three years and Georgia about one year. They currently spend about two hours a week in Chinese class and Susan usually sits in on Charlotte's Chinese class for the last 20 minutes, taking notes on what's new.

Look and Say is a game which Charlotte and Georgia love to play with Susan acting as mentor, as a way to practise Chinese. Susan shows pictures one by one to the girls and they compete to say the Chinese words of the objects in the picture. Sometimes she helps them with the answers, though her Chinese pronunciation is not so good.

Realizing it's not easy for Charlotte and Georgia to achieve Chinese fluency in an English-speaking background and by attending classes just once a week, Susan has joined about nine parents in passionately lobbying Vancouver School Board over the past two years for a Mandarin-immersion program in public school system, starting from kindergarten.

The group represents some 140 parents and their 250 children and are hoping for a start in September 2010. She said the the Vancouver School Board had agreed to the proposal in principle and was working on the school curriculum, funding, possible teachers and school location.


With the Mandarin-immersion program pending in school, the Duffys have already had their own Chinese culture immersion in their family. They celebrate important Chinese festivals with Charlotte and Georgia, including joining parades in Chinatown during Spring Festivals, and admiring the moon during Mid-autumn Festivals. They even celebrate Chinese Valentine Day. On these occasions, Susan likes to tell kids Chinese legends about their origins.

As the children always like food, Susan has managed to make steady progress in cooking Chinese food. She can prepare a table of traditional Chinese food for Spring Festival, comprising a whole steamed fish, long-life noodles, sweet and sour shrimp, dumplings and so on.

It was important for the children to have a mixture of Chinese traditions and North American traditions, Susan said, adding "they can see and make these choices for themselves when they get older."

All the efforts that the Duffys have made in incorporating Chinese culture into the children's lives are rewarding. When being asked what they know about China, Charlotte cited "populous"," Tiananmen Square", "dumpling" and "firecracker" while Georgia said "panda" and "bamboo."

The Duffys agree both Charlotte and Georgia are comfortable with their special identity and proud of who they are. As Eamon recalled, one morning when he and Charlotte were both in the bathroom and looking in the mirror together, he asked her: "what do you see in the mirror?" Charlotte just said: "I see a beautiful Chinese girl." Eamon felt that was "so wonderful."

Eamon said that when Westerners adopt Chinese children, it's very important that they will still be Chinese. If Charlotte and Georgia get older and go back to China for whatever reasons, he hopes the Chinese culture and heritage they learn now will make them comfortable there.

In fact, the Duffys are considering return trips to China as the girls grow up. They hope the first one will take place in the autumn of 2010.