SINGAPORE: In the one week that he’s been in Singapore, orphan-no-more Lucas Yap Keyuan has been eagerly soaking up his new life with a new family like a sponge.
The eight-year-old from China has helped do the laundry with gusto, raked leaves, had his first taste of Chinese New Year bak kwa, visited the library (picking out Dr Seuss books that Mama and Papa had been reading to him), shopped for groceries at NTUC FairPrice – and even started learning basic English and Maths.
“Amazingly, he's taking to all these with interest and having fun at it all,” said his daddy, Mr Yap Vong Hin. “We were expecting him to be guarded, hesitant about new things; but he just seems to really take it all in.”
The one little hitch in Keyuan’s brand-new world: He’s afraid to sleep alone.
For the past three years, he slept in a room with six to eight other children at his foster care centre, Alenah’s Home in Beijing. (Read his story here.) So now, “at night if he realises there’s no one else in the room, he’ll cry, and someone has to go and calm him down,” said his sister Eliana, 17.
And so, the Yap siblings have been taking turns to sleep in his room – to chase away their new little brother’s night terrors.
Ask Keyuan about his fears, and the bubbly boy makes light of it. “There are bad people who would kill me,” he said cheekily in Mandarin.
When his mum protested that there are “not so many bad people in Singapore”, he shoots back: “There are in my room, from 6.30pm onwards."
GETTING A NEW LITTLE BROTHER
The past week has been as much an adjustment for Keyuan as it has been for Eliana and her brothers, Elijah, 18, and Max, 16.
While their parents had first met Keyuan back in July 2017 when they flew to Beijing on his birthday, the three Yap siblings only met their new brother in the flesh for the first time on Feb 10, 2018 – a few days before the Chinese New Year.
“They, of course, thought we were a little bit crazy, that we were moving way too fast,” said their mum, Dr Lim Poh Lian, 52, a senior consultant at a hospital.
“But they did come around, that we could make a difference as a family for one person. We told them we wouldn’t do it unless it was a family decision.”
Max remembers things slightly differently.
“I was like, not really. They were like, okay, we’re going ahead to do it,” said the Year 5 student at an independent school.
I was a little bit selfish. I thought it would take away from the time I would have with them.
But then, last week, he hugged his new little brother at the airport, and things changed.
Granted, the 10-month adoption process had given the siblings time to get used to the idea, and for Max to get over his “little bit of state of shock”. And when they did, they started preparing for their little brother.
“Getting the room ready. Getting out all our old clothes. Just talking about what we would have to do while around him, what he would be like,” said Max.
None of that, however, truly prepared the 16-year-old for the overnight transformation from carefree youngest child to protective older brother. Or the shock of finding how much he liked it.
It feels great. I didn’t realise how good it would feel. I was talking to a friend who’s just full of love for her younger sister. I didn’t really understand that until I had a younger brother in Keyuan.
"I feel like I’ve known him for a long time, and he seems to take really well to me. Sleeping in the same room with him, having him hold my hand, having him talk to me as his gege (big brother), it was really something special," said Max.
“Now I really have to look out for someone, someone who really, really values my time with them.”
JUST LIKE THE OTHER KIDS, EXCEPT…
The sociable Keyuan, on his part, had been looking forward to meeting his new brothers and sister since seeing pictures of them in a photobook his parents presented him last year.
And he wasted no time in latching on to them – even Eliana, who is "still warming up" to him.
"On the first day, he literally clung on to us, and wouldn’t let us go," she said.
On Saturday, the second day of Chinese New Year, the Yaps had friends over to their townhouse for the first time since Keyuan’s homecoming.
Easy-going Keyuan was right in the midst of the riotous group of children running around, playing with toy trains and squabbling over toys. In other words, you wouldn't think he was anything but right at home.
Except that every five to ten minutes, he’d leave the group to look for Papa or Mama. To see what they were doing, or to show them something he was given.
Afterwards, he helped Eliana dry the dishes and put them away. A chore, like all the others, that he seemed to genuinely enjoy, perhaps because it made him feel a part of the family.
He never seemed to tire of physical affection – always asking for a hug or a piggyback ride, or simply to sit next to someone. When he wasn't playing, he was clutching on to Mama, or demanding her attention over a tiny burn on his finger that he got playing with sparklers.
Was this just the way he was raised with the other children at the orphanage, where he was constantly the "big brother" looking out for the smaller kids?
Or was it a former orphan’s need for physical reassurance against the fear that his newfound family might, somehow, stop loving him?
Keyuan was just a few days old when he was given up by his birth mother. He grew up with foster parents and in two foster care centres. He was passed over time and again by prospective adopters looking for a child who was younger, and who were perhaps scared off by his lack of ears – a birth defect.
FAST LEARNER WHO’S DRIVING DAD CRAZY
Born without external ears or ear canal, Keyuan didn’t properly learn to speak until about three years ago, when he received a hearing-aid implant and speech therapy. The Yaps were thus expecting at first that he might be behind in his development.
So they’ve been "pleasantly surprised" by how far along he actually is in his verbal and cognitive capabilities. Testimony, said Mr Yap, to “the great educational work” that Alenah’s Home and his kindergarten invested in him.
Already he’s been learning to write his name and his address in English “in case he gets lost”, said Dr Lim.
The plan is for Mr Yap, 60, to homeschool him until his grasp of English improves. Already, the stay-at-home dad has been impressed – and slightly exasperated – with his hunger to learn and how quickly he learns when taught.
The one thing he’s been doing that drives me crazy is, he’s at the age where he’s inquisitive about everything. Why this, why that. Constantly. I can’t stop to think.
"When our kids were the same way at this age, I'd tell them, 'Please can you shut up so I can think!'" he said.
For an eight-year-old, television is a great teaching aid. “The kids and we are enjoying reliving their childhood by replaying all the music DVDs and Disney videos long sitting idle in our collection … But human ears can only take so many reiterations of ‘Old MacDonalds’ and similar ditties,” said Mr Yap.
On a more serious note, the Yaps have a couple of priorities. The first is to apply for Singapore permanent residency for Keyuan. The couple, who were born in Malaysia, are US citizens with Singapore PR status, as are their three older children. They've lived here for 15 years.
The second is to set up a slew of medical specialist appointments in the next few months. Because of Keyuan’s condition, he needs to be assessed before they can get him proper medical insurance. The list includes a paediatrician, ear, nose and throat specialist, CT scans, audiology tests, speech therapy, dental checks, and vaccination updates.
IF IT HELPS ANOTHER CHILD, IT’S WORTH IT
While the initial week seems to gone well, given the age difference, the three teenagers will still have to figure out how to play big brothers and sister.
While Eliana was herself adopted by the Yaps roughly 16 years ago, she was a toddler then and is "not sure" how she can guide her youngest brother in adjusting to his adoption.
“I think they don’t quite know what to do with children that age,” said Mr Yap. “The good thing is that he's very fond them. So that makes it easier for them to relate to him.”
Meanwhile, there’s been an “amazing” outpouring of well-wishes and support for the family – from friends and strangers alike, who were moved by Keyuan’s story.
They’ve come forward, said Mr Yap, with "all sorts of help and practical assistance in terms of clothes, books, school supplies” (because of course, the Yaps had long ago gotten rid of their older children’s early school material).
Said Dr Lim: “We’ve been deeply touched by the way Keyuan’s adoption has moved so many people. There has been such an outpouring of kindness, joy and encouragement which we hope will make a difference for good.”
Despite finding the media spotlight on their family a bit unnerving, the couple hope their story will help other children in need of families – be it back in the orphanage in China, in Singapore or elsewhere.
Said Mr Yap said: "If this in any way helps other people to understand the whole adoption issue, and have their hearts moved to do something – it would be more than worth it."
Read the first part of this story: China orphan who broke our viewers’ hearts finds a home, 4,500km away in Singapore