December 11, 1994. A man and a woman, in their early forties, are in a hotel room in Hefei, Anhui Province, People’s Republic of China. They both appear anxious; the woman begins to do jumping jacks, while the man laughs and videotapes her. “Lili, this is your mom exercising,” he says into the camera. There is a sudden loud knock on the door. Both run to open it. First, though, the man positions the camera at the door.
A Chinese woman appears, holding a red-faced, screaming baby girl dressed in winter clothing, many layers, topped off with a green knit beret. The baby clings to a pink plastic toy flashlight, holding onto it by its black strap. As her nurse hands her to the man, whose arms are outstretched, she refuses to give up the flashlight. “Lili, Lili, it’s okay,” he tells her. The man hands the baby to the woman, and the baby screams even more. “Mama, mama,” the nurse says to the baby, pointing at the woman. The baby will have none of this.
One hour later. The man and woman and the baby are alone in the hotel room. The baby has had a warm bath and change of clothing and has calmed down. She is wearing soft cotton pajamas and a new hat. The hat is yellow with a red tassel; the man bought it for her at the Great Wall before going on to Hefei. The baby still clings to the pink plastic flashlight, though. The man feeds her warm baby formula with a spoon, and it’s clear this baby has a big appetite. “Lili, here you are having your first meal with us!” he says to the camera. She claps her hands and laughs. There is baby formula on her face.
One week later. The man and woman, with a sleeping baby strapped to the man, enter an apartment on West 70th Street in New York City. The baby wakes up as the man gently places her into her new crib, but she refuses to give up her link to her past, the pink plastic flashlight.
Seventeen years later. The baby is about to leave for college. She knows that the pink plastic flashlight is in a wooden box, along with the green knitted cap, handmade jacket, and pink slippers she was wearing when she met the man and the woman in a hotel room on December 11, 1994. Also in the wooden box is the man’s medal for being named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. His first words on September 30, 2005, when he learned that he had metastatic melanoma, were “I want to see my daughter grow up.” She is now grown up, and he would be proud of the screaming baby holding tight to a pink plastic flashlight.