[Updated: 12/10 12:23pm: updates throughout, please click here to get the updated version] CCTV-13 aired a telephone conversation with American foster caregiver Ray Wigdal last night on the News 1+1 program that implied he is currently in the US caring for an elderly father.
The conversation was part of a larger news piece on the case of Wigdal and his 11 foster children, and in the segment Ray speaks only in Mandarin.
Some of the revelations in the 21-minute news segment include one of the elderly women involved in the children’s care stating that Wigdal was not in fact the children’s sole full-time caregiver but rather one of many volunteers that took care of the kids, with his role being primarily as their teacher, taking them out to play, and finding the connections necessary to get the childrens’ surgeries arranged via charities.
Additionally, reporters indicate that the body of the foster child that passed away Dec 7 remains at the hospital due to a bureaucratic snarl in that child had no proper identification. The cause of death remains unclear as the hospital has not issued an official autopsy report.
Meanwhile, pictures appeared on Wigdal’s website today that appear to show him at the girl’s bedside while she was in the hospital some time in September, which contradicts some Chinese news reports indicating that he had not visited the child.
Dec 5: Shunyi Foreign Foster Parent of 11 Disappears, Critically Ill Child at Hospital
Dec 8: Girl at Center of Suspected Abuse Case Dies
Dec 9: Who Is Ray Wigdal? Contrasting Views Emerge of Missing American Foster Father
We have translated the portions of Ray’s words here from the original Mandarin:
On how he treated the children:
Wigdal: All you need to do is ask the children, I never bullied them. I’ve been a school principal in the past, so I know how to teach children obedience, how to study and to quiet down – but I never hit them. I love the children so much, I could never beat them or hit them or bully them, let alone torture them. To suggest that is just going way too far. I love the children and I think the children can testify to that.
On his role in raising the children:
Wigdal: The children do not have a hukou, and of course these are not my natural children by birth, I am just a volunteer, I just help pay for their upbringing, teach them English, take them to play, or organize medical treatment, and I’ve been doing this for the past ten years. Sometimes I spent my own money on them, sometimes friends helped out. Whatever the cost we always found a way to get these kids the surgeries they need.
On why he and the kids moved so often, which some Chinese news reports have said implied that he was running from something:
Wigdal: Neighbors who saw so many kids, it’s not that they complained they were too noisy – I think they’re actually pretty quiet – but they just couldn’t take accept the idea of living next to so many children, and would complain to the landlord. So many times we have been asked to leave the apartments we lived in – no one wants to move so many times, but we found ourselves having to find new places to live three or four times every half year.
On his relationship to the children:
Wigdal: I am Uncle Ray. “Uncle Ray” in English is not like the Chinese lei shushu. "Uncle Ray" is more like saying your real uncle, and in English we don’t use that term so casually. I always told the children that I was part of their family, I am your uncle. But I would always tell them I hoped in the future they will one day have their own mothers and fathers. This is why I always very carefully used the term “uncle”. This way if one day the children are in fact adopted, they’ll have their own mom and dad and I will remain an uncle. The children would ask me sometimes, “Uncle Ray, are you my dad?” and I would reply “no”. But remember, none of these children have mothers or fathers – so we’ve told them that we [myself and the ayis who helped take care of them]are your family.
On his future relationship to the children:
Wigdal: I hope to have an opportunity to see them, to support them, to encourage them. After all, you can ask them, I think they love me and I love them, and we all consider ourselves family. But I understand, I haven’t been doing nothing for the past thirty years, I know there’s no real chance that I could actually adopt these children … but if I can help friends to take care of them, I will be very happy to do so.
On his status as "missing":
Wigdal: I never thought this situation would get so messy. I hate to see these articles that say I have disappeared – I’m very easy to find, in fact the police found me right away. My father is 85 years old and I’ve [come back to the US]to take care of him, but I want to return to China, hopefully before Spring Festival. If customs does not allow me back, what can I say? I don’t feel I’ve violated any laws or done anything bad. I can understand why there has been some misunderstandings. I understand a lot of the regulations and sitations, including China’s hukou system, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of effort with orphanages and friends in China’s civil affairs bureau, and I know this sort of paperwork is not easy to process.
On how he came to be taking care of orphans:
Wigdal: In the 90s I worked in an orphanage in another country to do some charity work and I wanted to see if I was able to take care of children and help them get medical treatment. This is how this started. People called me when they saw to say there was an abandoned orphan at the train station no one is taking care of. All of the children were brought to me by elderly peope who told me that they had no one to take care on them. All of them were abandoned due to cleft lip or cleft palate.
On his qualifications for taking care of children:
Wigdal: I’ve been a principal in a school in Alaska, so I am quite capable from an education standpoint. As to who spends the most money, who takes care of the kids the most, we’re all working together.
The original story has generated dozens of netizen comments since its posting, with most expressing support and admiration for Wigdal’s support of unwanted children. The three top-ranked comments are translated here:
"He took these abandoned kids in — that’s admirable enough. He is way better than the kids’ natural parents and the government workers." — Zhexuejia (235 agrees)
"I don’t make comments often. If what has been reported is all true, the laowai really did as much as he could. In all fairness, how many parents have never spanked their kids? Think of how many people don’t even love their kids. The laowai has tried his best to take the kids in, take care of them and help them with their operations. We can’t ask too much — whatever he did was not his obligation. " — Yan Guikong (157 agrees)
"This laowai is way better than the ‘youguan bumen (relevant government departments)’. Who knows how many of the ten kids would have already died without this laowai’s help." — Li Suoshi (116 agrees)
This post first appeared on thebeijinger.com on December 10, 2014
Image: CCTV, rayschildren.org