Looking back at the essay about education I’d written during my graduate school exam, I still feel much about points I made in that essay. That time I was busy at reading sociological reports and theories. So on the first paragraph, I wrote: There was a slogan the Labour Party of the UK used: Education! Education! Education!
With the emphasis made by this slogan posed during neo-liberal era and most working class people unemployed, people especially the young were feeling a sense of helpless. The intention of the slogan was to improve the public awareness of the importance of education, helping people realize that education as a human right is unalienable.
It could be said truly that varying socioeconomic conditions affect people’s academic achievements; but while realizing those factors the realization of the goal or the meaning of education may also need be emphasized.
Or maybe we can ask a socratic question: what is education for? Is that we receive education for our own or for the society as a whole? Or what is knowledge? Is it that of phenomenon or of the truth.
The entire human history is like a history of continuous process of both material and nonmaterial enlightenment. Yet we are still in that process, realizing ourselves.
I saw people walking on the street and though it is a small city, I feel being small is also like being on the way to our very origin.
by Tome Loulin
This small city—Qianjiang, yet, not a particularly special one, while on the south of the Han river, is in no way like a river town. Though having been living there sporadically for almost ten years, occasionally, I could still somehow feel waves of unfamiliar feelings engulfing the shores on the inside of my heart.
Yet, it’s another summer reaching its culminated phrase in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the season of passion and ardency, yet, still fleeting in nature. It’s summer and people are tired of not being able to socialize or to live collectively. Young people who used to be studying or working outside of the city now are coming back to the city to work for jobs relating to gig economy. It is seemed suddenly young people who had previously absent from the city have come back for good—there are still people living here planning to work or study in Wuhan or other big cities but this time most people are not going, for there are times they could wait. So they waited and wait.
Mostly abandoned by educated youngsters, the city had looked like a city of the aged and the new born. It’s still full of people walking aimlessly and not a single one seemed much affected by international politics. Yet, parks in the city are filled by retired people, mostly women, dancing and exercising—surely those who dance regularly must have known what is the best way of living. Old ladies cluster together, sitting still to talk about their old love stories or rumors, yet, still some are eager to master the art of mahjong playing, sitting beside mahjong tables in mostly shabby spaces with dim lighting. They don’t mind such conditions as long as they can have something to talk about, to play with and to laugh at.
The sidewalks of the road beside my apartment have been undergoing a gentrification motivated, I guess, by the intention to help people who want works work. Most of those working at this road renovation site are middle aged, mostly men with sunburnt skin. They just work and rarely were seen to talk. Their browned skins are the products of their unawareness of sun protection but how can they care about their skins when they cannot stop caring about how will their next meal come securely.
Days before at an afternoon when I was on the way home, a man middle aged with curled hair at middle-length carrying a plow on one of his shoulders passing me by impressed me when I saw his bitter yet still warm smile on his face. At that moment, though he was no longer seemed young but I still feel his overlooked passion for life. It’s about hope. His hope expressed by his shy smile was at that time as vivid as the sunlight that afternoon.
It was about six past forty when I saw a pair of seniors holding hands stroll through the street through which I go to my grandma’s house. Their movements had been shaky and zigzag yet still as steady as one can be at that age. It was a beautiful yet burningly hot evening. I saw people walking on the street and though it is a small city, I feel being small is also like being on the way to our very origin.
Standing before a souvenir store in the palace museum, though the postcards depicting palaces Chinese imperial members lived in a stately air were still sold hanging on the stock stall, I was no longer interested in buying them, instead, I had watched those cards for a while and then gone.
by Tome Loulin
“Tome Loulin, you seem like coming back from beach after vacation.” A female colleague had teased me saying, referring my wearing: a training tank top and a very short short. Though a bit embarrassed but trying not to be seemed so, I smiled to her but said nothing. That was a summer and the sunlight very strong. Because of our good quarterly performances in sales, we got a group-vacation as a reward. Current-drifting was proposed as the recreational program and permitted.
While in the bus on the way to the valley where the drifting program is located, a male guide bragged that he was honored as the king of karaoke because of his good voice but everyone in the bus said nothing in response. He was not at all feeling embarrassed, instead, he was a bit excited and almost shouted to us, saying: “ you don’t believe me? How about letting me sing some songs I am good at to you?” “No, thanks, we’d love to sleep.” Some tourist in the bus had replied to him suddenly. But he had sung the songs he liked anyway. After hearing his singing, a few had thanked him for his performance out of politeness then he had sat down and become quiet.
While a young woman was ready to speak and to raise her body, another older one had interrupted her saying: “ this girl is newly recruited by our company to work as a guide and she will read aloud some safety guides to you. Should there be any inconvenience occurred later, I would beg for your pardon.” Then in the bus was a silence and the young woman started reading: “If there were anyone in our tour group having encountered any emergency, please let us know.” The way the word emergency was read by her in Mandarin was like emergen-seex in English. It may be due to a sudden change of lines on her draft. Three women seating in front of me had burst into laughters. But unaffected, the young girl resumed reading. The bus was ascending on the highway. Outside of the window were mountains green-covered in a row.
After arriving at the valley, I said to my colleagues that due to my own concerns, I hope myself to remain on the land and to simply watch them drifting in the currents. But they had already bought my ticket days ago so they insisted me to join them together, otherwise, it would be a waste of money.
Before hearing that we would go to Yichang, the city where three gorges dam was located, to drift in the river currents, I had searched on the internet for information about that game. Only until I was utterly shocked by the information I got, which were overwhelmingly negative, depicting it as a risky game for inexperienced people to play and so on, had I stopped browsing.
Though that day is a brilliant and hot summer day but the water in the valley where we prepared to drift was as chilling as ice. With wave after wave hitting our body while we were on our course forward, I was much more concerned about the rocks in that small river so that every time when there was a descending, we bend our heads as low as to our thighs in order to protect our heads.
The whole course lasted about hours. And after I landed, finishing the journey, I felt extremely grateful that this had ended but some colleagues seemed unsatisfied and there was a female one said to us that she planned to go back drifting with her friends the next day.
The year I graduated from university was a year of endless traveling. Classmates had invited me to go to an amusement park in Wuhan which I rarely knew to play for the purpose of honoring our graduation.
While waiting in a line snaked about almost hundreds meters long to ride the roller coaster of which I was scared. But anyway, the ticket had been already bought so I had better not waste the money I spent, a classmate persuaded me saying.
Seeing people in front of me both excited and scared, I felt it was normal to be that way because I felt the same. But they my classmate said that it was better to have tried than never. If not now, when?
Media in China had previously criticized a phenomenon that most of the tourists in China had embossed their names on the walls of famous attractions, turning those in cultural ruins. That was almost a decade ago when selfies were not much prevalent and people’s urge to create proofs to show they had been to such places was strong. Now with the advancement of photography, those who want to have some thing to prove their existence no longer need to use such ways to show their travel histories. Souvenirs were no longer sophisticated things to them.
I had watched Palace Museum photographs on the postcards, alway under bright sunny days and seemed solemn. The yellow and dark red tone appeared on the postcards made a nostalgic air in my childhood memories.
Standing before a souvenir store in the palace museum, though the postcards depicting palaces Chinese imperial members lived in a stately air were still sold hanging on the stock stall, I was no longer interested in buying them, instead, I had watched those cards for a while and then gone.
Sending postcards to a close friend or a family member while traveling was once a regardful ritual, a means to show our considerate thoughts and regards to our friends. Now, with the advancement of the Internet, people are having less and less concrete memories relating to their family members and friends.
While during the pandemic, there was a news reporting that the sales of the card of condolence had surged, mainly in use to send people’s deep sympathies to the people they befriended. Receiving a physical thing is no same to a digital one.
Classmates in university had organized a camping. Before that, I had never climbed a mountain and though that experience is as ordinary and simple as it could be, with the passion and curiosity of youth, I had remembered that journey a faith-like one.
Where are we going? I had asked my grandmother while holding her hands walking in a dark night when I was little.
We were in the office waiting for the clock to tick to five so that we could have our dinner taken but in this food desert where our office located was nothing particularly delicious to eat so we were not particularly expecting that time to come. But my colleagues won’t keep silent simply because the dinner failed us.
“I wouldn’t take my son to go through that snack stall anymore which was such a temptation for him that he insisted me to buy him guokui cake every time while passing that stall by.” Wayne said while frowned a bit. “That’s expensive and due to my unstable wages, I need to save more instead of expending more currently.” She added.
She was referring to his son’s elementary schooling cost and said to us that in order to make his son be an advantaged learner, she had enrolled his son to our second-language teaching institute which costs a lot to an ordinary wage earner and in order to encourage his son to read more books she has to buy a lot of books. “But it was also worth the investment because of the competition my son will be facing in the future.”She said.
I was interviewed by her initially when applying the position in the institute as a teacher and she very warmly told me what I need to expect in the future in order to fare well.
“You need to smile often because young pupils were mostly reserved and afraid of strangers.” She said while referring the demo class norms which were practiced to prospective students to attractive their parents to buy our courses. “Do you love children?” She asked.
“Yes, I thought so.”after a moment of thinking, I replied. And though she wanted to hire me but there was still a test I need to pass that is, to be interviewed by that institute’s director who also is the investor, Miss Chan.
“Miss Chan was tough and hard to deal with.”Wayne said to me while frowned slightly.
I had passed that test and after several months of working, I heard that Wayne was initially appointed by Miss Chan to be the executive of our institution but she chose to step back to work as a sales consultant. “Because the water here was opaque and deep.”She said, referring to the working environment. “If I were the executive of the institute, I won’t be sure whether I may be able to preserve my authenticity which I cherished the most.”Wayne said to me.
One day she said very tenderly to me: “It’s so lucky that we could have met together. And I always saw you as a younger brother of mine.” I thanked her.
She also wondered why I do not find a partner. “What kind of person would you like to be your partner?”She had asked while almost all the colleagues were in the office. Feeling embarrassed but trying to pretend not so, I said fast that whoever is outgoing.
“I felt so regrettable that I had gotten married and had child borne that early and if I could choose again, I would choose to remain single longer.” She joked to us.
“Come on, you got a boy that is tender, you are lucky.” Colleague Jane said, almost protesting, “And your son is invaluable.” Jane had just got married and worked here as a teacher too. “Why is it so hard to be a teacher in private school.” Jane half joked and half smiled.
“While being a teacher is no easy thing no matter whether you work in a private or a public school.”Another colleague replied.
“Well, at least they who work in the public school do not need to worry like I do about whether those difficult parents will continue to pay for my courses or not and that was such a horrific thing that I had trouble sleeping.” Jane said.
“While, there is no easy job for people like us and that’s all.” Another smiled and replied.
Most colleagues were in their middle twenties and planing their future. Some were dreaming to find their potential partners and others planing to have a child. Sometimes I wondered when will they get bored about those family topics but never once had I found they be so.
Emma, another colleague, who had a younger sister was sitting beside Wayne eating the lunch in the small room where dishes were served by our school. While I was taking my helpings, I heard Emma saying that her mother had indirectly hinted that her sister’s upbringing in the future was up to her and she had a bit tired of picking her sister up from kindergarten to home. “I was supposed to find a boyfriend and have my life started but they said to me that come back to work because in Qianjiang, they could care for me more.”She said to Wayne.
“And I really thought if they were unable to rear a second child, just not do that. But now they got me a sister and said that all duties were on my shoulders because they are too old to take care of my sister, that’s just nonsensical.” Emma added.
Wayne listened then consoled her saying “it’s true that having to help raise a sibling is hard. It takes time.”
When Emma ranked first in overall performances and with the norms to compensate good performers, the senior supervisor Mr. Zeng was obliged to reward her something, so he half joked and half congratulated her, saying: “What’s your most wished thing? While not knowing yours but I wish you to find a matching up candidate.” referring to perspective marriage partner.
While laughing but slightly irked, Emma resented Mr. Zeng and asked whether he thought she was that leftover to have to make wishes to have marriage candidates.
Are they shopping people? to have people called marriage candidates—which in Chinese are called xiangqin duixiang–I thought and was eager to rush home.
While we prepared to trip home from the office, Emma said another matching-up man had failed her because he had refused to meet her after knowing she works in a private school.
“He wants to find a partner working in a public school just like him.”Emma said contemptuously. And she added: “Not even want to see my photo, how would he know whether we would be fit or not? Is his job in the public school a superior one?”
The last summer in our high school years should be an anxious one but maybe because of being immersed with parting feelings, it seemed rather sentimental. Classmates had been writing encouragements on each other’s memorandum for a while as if knowing that this summer would be a farewell to our entire student years although some had college years to come but that was not the same thing.
Above the blackboard in our classroom was a saying: take bitterness as a boat for us to cruise through the sea of knowledge. At a silent night, our headmaster had said to us softly that university was a different thing compared to high school because we got finally to have our own to lean on—to be self-regulated. While being told about academic credit system in university, we felt lost but also a little bit dreamy. ‘As long as I no longer need to be forced to wake up early, I still feel loving for life just like this farewell summer.’ I had written on the dairy.
Even the most contentious rivals had halted their arguments maybe because the parting feeling was too strong. Although seniors were exempted from the yearly high school game given the study burden they bore but after dinner walking along the playground after the game, seeing the sun set down west, I had seen a lot of love lines embossed on the wall of the audience area in surprise. Though beautiful in nature, most of those love lines were hollowly written because of a lack of core theme. Those students who wrote those felt they were in love and lost but not knowing what they were really demanding.
Head-mater Hong who liked joking had once talked about immature relationships in high school years which of course he rebuke, saying that a student of his, after high school graduation, had gotten married and borne a child; and initially the student felt fulfilling but actually regretted her decision afterward. Mr. Hong added that studying was almost the happiest thing to do.
I had used to be expecting summer vacations of the graduation years because no homework would be assigned during those times. But after Gaokao, China’s university enrollment exam, when almost every classmate seemed to be busy with university applying preparations, the expectation for a homework-free summer vacation had faded in my mind.
Just like the first line in the novel Anna Karenina: happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, students done well in the exam had been planing for their university years but the bad off students were planning their future differently: some had planned to go working, others to grab whatever university they were admitted to, and others to prepare for a second try.
Then every summer unless seeing some news about gaokao, I felt no summer at all. In the summer we graduated from university, I had only remembered the prefect pressing us to finish school-leaving procedures as soon as possible.
When in school, I sometimes wrote the year wrong on the worksheet maybe because the time had passed too fast. While writing the year 2008 in Arab numbers, I had wrongly written it to the year of 2007. Fortunately, the number 7 is easy to be amended to the number 8. Of course now, I no longer need to submit homework that way but with this freedom, I feel lost in someway.
There was a world map hung on the wall of my childhood home that was later sold to others. When parents were going out to work and being alone, I could stand before the map watching for hours but not get bored because I thought that could widen my own horizon. And when I found out one day that our town was located in inner China and was flat—no coast, no mountain, and no big river–I was eager to find something different, but lives there were very simple but safe. Grandpa usually said to us that we were lucky because our little town only encountered occasionally happened floods.
While in elementary school, reading in Robinson Crusoe about how early Western explores had explored world given author’s imagination of a man maintaining to survive in a small island—though that was fictional—I had felt a bit pity because in this century almost every lonely island has been explored or at least rediscovered thus leaving little room for my own magical thinking.
I found there were very little cultural products sold in the town so in order to obtain a map I had taken a chance to request my grandmother to buy me one when she was going to visit her mother in another town that was larger than mine. She agreed reluctantly asking me why did I need such thing and I answered that was because I wanted to know more about this world. A day after she had bought the map back, she complained how strange my demand for map was. But not minding her remarks much, I was happy to have something new to read.
I had asked my geography class teacher about how can we make our desserts green because I felt that in our earth there are such expansive lands that are ‘wasted’ was a tragedy.
‘That’s an uneasy thing.’ The teacher, smiling, answered impatiently.
Beside desserts, I loved islands, remembering the name of even the most tiny island in the loneliest part of the world. When in high school, I was told that labeling Australia as a continent or an island was still an issue undecided and I had preferred to label it an island because of my love for islands although later the world had settled to call Australia a continent.
Before attending university, I had never lived outside somewhere alone but when mother was concerned about me being outside alone I thought she was over worrying. I thought one needs to be careful while outside but being willing to face challenges was also vital to be independent.
I loved mountains because my hometown had none. I felt that our desire for experiencing some thing different was prevalent.
Visiting the island of Putuo, Zhoushan at the age of fourteen with my relatives, seeing the sea, at the mountain top of the island, changing colors and realizing how small this island was, with blowing winds, I started to know why we need to believe in something.
While registering to university, my grandparents had insisted to be with me though I had thought I should be going alone. I had read an article debating on the Internet about whether parents should companion their college-aged sons or daughters to go registering their colleges.
A relative had described that when her son was going to university the first day, unable to maintain a hotel room, she with her husband had slept inside a university gymnasium. ‘I should let him be independent but when coming this far, I just cannot resist that urge of being with him—we are still a little bit concerned.’ She had said.
“I’ve bought some noodles nearby from a shop that was really cheap.”Grandma said to me while handing a cup of noodle to me and I thanked her. She was always good at finding things cheap and although being deceived by subpar counterfeit products she bought serval times she still believed in cheap things because we are just a simply family thus need to be frugal.
I was always nervous about the exams and one day when I was strolling with her saying how relieved I was to find that I had passed an important exam, she had smiled and saying that she was feeling we really need some relax after exams and said when she was young, finishing her exams, her classmates had always organized them to go seeing the movies—themes ranging from civil wars, world war two and Korean War. ‘We need to have some time to relax.’ She said.
Before university graduation, classmates were eager to find jobs to prove they were able to be living independently in this world. To earn a living for oneself was always a topic in our dormitory. Rudy, a classmate living next door, had adopted an extremely extensive job seeking strategy that he had worked without sleep for nearly an entire day to redistribute e-commerce parcels.
A roommate, W.London, had proposed us to have a before separation camping because we most possibly won’t meet again in the future. “Before we change completely, let’s have some memory that would be really special.” London said gleefully as if knowing how fleeting our lives were. So they had decided to go camping in a mountain, I was reluctant to go with them because of safety concerns. But Hawaiing, a friend of mine, had suggested me to go ahead saying that the opportunity was very precious.
While camping at the top of a mountain in Jiangxia at night, we made a bonfire to cook the food we prepared earlier and sang and danced around it. That night was slightly cold but no one felt cold because of the fire. While being colored by the glow of the fire, I found living in a wild way was appealing because never once had we found we could be so self-reliant.
We collected twigs to fuel the bonfire, and boil the water collected from a pool near where we camped, everything we needed was supplied by ourselves.
While returning from the mountain top following a path to descend, passing rows of village houses, I found some elderly citizens were very surprised to find there were tourists passing them by. They cried to us that they have oranges to sell and asked tenderly whether we were interested in buying some. While shaking my head and resuming the way back to the school, I found while we were observing them, they were observing us, too.
“It was easy to climb a mountain but hard to descend” while walking in the shadows of trees and fanning fans to make some breeze, I had remembered a poem by Li Yu, and I had translated it here:
Outside the curtains/ the rain was murmuring./ Fading away was the spring./ Unable to keep away the cold of the midnight was silk bedding./ While dreaming/ not aware I was a visitor was I./ Ephemeral happiness./ While seeing seemingly endless landscape/ one should not be alone/ To lean against the railings only because/ It was easy to leave but hard to reunite./ Another world in the heaven/ Gone with flowing water, fallen flowers and spring.
So many times we forget what we thought we won’t forget that so strange was seeing our old photos again.
Without photos that preserve the moment we had lived, one may be distorted about what his or her past time was like. I remembered a childhood friend to whom I said that I wished he could be my best friend forever and he had agreed, nodding his head though both of us were unable to keep that commitment.
Grandmother Summer loved watching old photos through which she said she could reimagine her past life. In a photo taken about forty years ago, she was standing on the field of blossoming canola flowers, smiling before the lens. People take photographs in order to remember their past.
Blake, a friend of mine, had requested me to stay overnights in a apartment I tenanted years before because he was new to the city of Wuhan. I was happy to have him to be with. He had a camera so we had taken a lot of photos while outside. Walking beside bank of the East Lake after month long heavy-raining, he said that photograph itself should have a purpose–just like painting–in order to be worth viewing. Sitting on a stone near the lake, I was posing before the lens and I had felt that we were almost as narcissistic as a narcissist could be because of knowing how precious it was to have an opportunity to record our youthful selves. Years after our parting I had lost those photos but still remembered one, that is, a sweating me, with a mixed feeling about the future, sitting on a stone under big trees gazing at rows of people not far away beside me. That was a young summer in my life; that was a time my life was as ardent as mid-summer afternoons. Blake was not happy that I had requested him to often to take photos of me but I was so much immersed in the happiness of being photographed that I didn’t realize at that time that how selfish I had been. Why I hadn’t taken more photo for Blake? He had only told me that he was shy and every time when I take a shot, he said that he was too ugly to be captured in cameras but that was not true. I knew he actually wanted positive confirmations. ‘I looked bad.’ He said. ‘No, that’s not true.’ I replied.
There was only one photography studio in my hometown when I was little and going to that studio was the most sophisticated thing I could have loved. The owner, in his mid forties then, had instructed me how to smile naturally before a camera so that I won’t be shot in an unnatural fashion. Every birthday then my grandmother had companioned me to go to the studio to take the ceremonial photo. I thought life could be measured by the number of photos I had taken. Only when our family had moved to the county seat to let me be studying in a middle school located at the suburb of the city of Qianjiang–a small city in Hubei province–had that custom gone. No one had mentioned that again and I had kept that memory to myself. Only at some sleepless nights, had Grandma Summer, looking at photo of childhood me, smiling, said to me that how quickly I had grown up. Hearing that reminiscing word, I felt there was a surge of sadness washing through the shores in my heart, come and gone; when little, I wandered what would adult life like, powerful? Being able to command a child to eat something he or she doesn’t like?; but when grown up, I only wished myself to have remained little a bit longer so I may be able to remember how happy I was when holding hands with Grandmother Summer together on the way to that later closed photo studio to measure our life in a compassionate way.
In a photo shot in my elementary school to honor the end of my elementary schooling, Summer said that I was too shy, too thin and innocent.
I thought that was a criticism because of my uneasiness of being called shy. When in middle school, a girl teased me saying I was too seriously reacted when being said I was too shy and should be more outgoing. Mother had suggested me to make more friends. Everyone seemed to have a say about what I should be; but practicing their suggestions was as painful as undergoing a surgery. Only years later had I found out that to change myself in favor of other persons’ taste or view was not truly living.
I had read in a book that people should smile to everyone to show their kindness so in the elementary school, I had tried to smile to whoever had looked at me. And one day, a girl walking with me said that ‘why are you always smiling to me?’ ‘A book I read had suggested so.’ I said awkwardly.
‘Remember your intention before taking a photo.’ Blake was saying to me. ‘Should I?’ I had thought to myself.
Everyone’s hometown could be regarded as unrecognizable at some rate after all. Surrounded by rows of emptied houses, feeling lonely, witnessed neighbors to have moved away from here, I knew what was life in a lonely town like. Although I had never gone to Sahara desert, but felt deeply after reading San Mao’s–a traveling writer–‘The Stories of the Sahara’ because of the emptiness of this lonely countryside.
Because my grandparents worked as doctor and nurse, I had witnessed peasants, both sexes, undergoing gastric lavages in the emergency room–which was simply a bed placed in the lobby–in order to be rescued owing to their suicidal acts by gulping pesticides. I had saw them laying on the bed unresponsive surrounded by crying relatives who wore over-worn clothes with dried muds stained on their pants and were sunburnt, sobbing, kneeling. They were people living in the fields.
The town itself was like any other one in rural China—though lacking cultural activities but authentic at some degree. I had never travelled out of my home county but never given up thinking about what would outside world like: would that be some place better than mine. My family lived in the near edge of the town but were not farmers. Grandparents working in local hospital were living a very simple life.
There were birch trees before our front door, unoccupied fields cultivated with vegetables. Every afternoon then I remembered seeing the reddened sun set west like Monet’s impressionism paintings, blurring, engaging.
My mother was scared to sleep alone–although she had me to be with–so that she had requested a female coworker to companion her. I was very happy to have a new guest in the house and had requested mom’s colleague to companion me to tour around the town and she agreed. Holding hands, we had reached before a lotus pond.
‘Lotus’. She said to me, pointing her fingers not very far away. Some lotus leaves was above the water and withered lotus darkened. There was a silence and both of us haven’t spoken about anything but gazed at that pond, motionless as if stunned.
She must had felt about the inevitable force of life and death of the lotus but she had just taken my hand, led me home.
Our family had used twigs to cook and without grandmother’s help, mother cooked awfully as if doing chemical experiments. One day grandmother had gone to her mother’s house so we had to cook by ourselves. There were still some dried twigs in the keeping room, so mother had started cooking and I had watched her kindled stove. Then I fueled stove and saw smoke circling away through the chimney. After some minutes, somehow, the food we cooked was just over-burnt; while in shock but not very feeling shocking, I thought we must have been very careless about cooking to have such an outcome.
When we moved to an apartment near the main street, I had tended aloes, cactus and flowers and because of the southward balcony, the outcome of that tending was very fruitful. When felt idled I could be sitting beside those potted plants watching and watering them for hours and still feeling refreshing. Those days were always gentle and loving because of those flowers. So years later when I lived in a place where the sun didn’t shine much, I felt lost that I couldn’t tend potted flowers. And because of that, when a university classmate, Sarah talked to me enthusiastically about her tented flowers in her balcony, I had felt envious.
Sarah said that while she was growing up, her grandma had treated her critically compared with her younger brothers. ‘My grandma preferred boys.’ She said. And when in a late summer night, sitting on a stair after a day of fruitless job seeking, we talked about what we had dreamed about our future and she said she had always dreamed to own a flower shop in order to live with flowers—her favorite thing. Worked for a flower shop with a low pay, feeling defeated by the reality, she said she had to quit her job as a flower seller. ‘It cannot make me a living.’ We bent our dreams in order to live.
Sarah had said to me that in her backyard was a fruit tree that was very very huge and her love for flowers and plants was because of that tree. And every time when she thought about the flowers, she thought about the tree.
The town itself was no longer recognizable while I walked in the narrow main street again but never so strange had I felt because in my memory this currently dirty, narrow, lifeless main street was a street full of people, wide, hustling. Never once had I felt so helpless when finding out that hometown was forever gone, and only existed in my memory.
Or maybe that town had never existed; I had remembered that wrong, had deceived by my inaccurate memories—those overly-loving memories. ‘Life was like walking back to one’s hometown and finding out how strange it was to call it hometown, again, as if something gone had simply gone, gone.’ I had joked to myself, smiling while saw those shattered country roads. In some ways, it had never gone.
‘Aren’t you a Qianjianger?’ Joseph, a colleague of mine, had asked me when asking me why not speak Qianjiang dialect. I had excused that because the town I lived had been forgotten by Qianjiang city. Was I mourning the fall of my hometown or why. Was I living in the past unable to face the reality that the hometown in my memory was no longer there?
Chinese families usually celebrate their children’s birthdays when they were one, ten year-old, their successful university enrollment and marriage banquet. I had only remembered my 10 year-old celebration in a very old, dirty restaurant but still felt happy maybe because those grownups coming to celebrate with me didn’t judge me in someway. I had never held a university enrollment banquet because I felt uncomfortable to face my sharp-mouthed relatives and the university that admitted me was not well-known, in those relatives standards. With a cake and smiling grownups surrounding me, I blew out the candles on the cake. Those grownup had devoted their time for me at that time to celebrate with me. We were poor but we care about others. My childhood lacked materials but never lacked people caring others’ emotional needs. I didn’t know their names but still feel grateful for their time devoted to me at that time. I am thankful for their attention.
‘You said Qianjiang city had neglected your hometown, now you see those beautiful newly-built roads, I hope you would be forgiving about the city because we are all just that—not that rich to care for every town.’ Joseph had said to me. I managed to calm down a wave of sadness inside me and thanked him.
When I was in elementary school, teachers had asked us what we wanted to be in the future. I was always unable to answer that question. ‘Surely you will be somebody and leave here in the future.’ A teacher said to us.
While lining up before the checking stop to enter Hong Kong, I found my cellular carrier had halted service because I hadn’t applied roaming service before entering the city. But as my friend Mr. Hsu, who resides in Shenzhen and travels to Hong Kong frequently, already passed border through fast-checking service, unable to contact him, amid a sea of black heads, I felt lost at the beginning of the journey. Where was I going?
Waiting lines at the border check snaked about twenty meters long. A checker handed back me my visa on which he stamped. People around me didn’t say none as if all of them knew it would only be a matter of time before they reached their destinations.
What if Mr.Hsu decided to leave me alone after finding out he was unable to contact me. I felt regretful for causing troubles to him for this. Amid a sea of people in the narrow corridor at Hong Kong side, I found Mr. Hsu leaning against a railing waving his hands towards me. ‘It was lucky.’ He said.
I thanked him and expressed my regret for causing inconveniences. He smiled and said to me that was fine.
Getting off the bus at downtown Kowloon, I found so narrow were the sidewalks that carrying a luggage up-and-downs to and fro the metro stations was like doing performing arts in an open air theatre lest I be seen as a clumsily behaved tenderfoot.
Arriving at the hotel room we ordered was at afternoon.The hotel itself where we stayed was sophisticated, located at the Island. Looking through the mists over the Victoria strait, I saw glistening skyscrapers tinted darkening-yellow glowing sharply.
Near where we stayed was a freight wharf, empty and around which pedestrians strolled idly. The wharf itself, where a vessel docked must be busy usually. Because the prosperous docks of Hong Kong were vividly recorded by old-fashioned music videos, it now seemed a bit sentimental to look at Hong Kong’s nearly deserted wharfs.
Before this, I had never been to Hong Kong but had imagined what it would look like to live there; maybe, like other cities that underwent painful world wars, uneasy histories might have made the city’s humanitarian heritages even diverse.
Mr.Hsu suggested us to go to remote island areas where Tian-Tan Buddha is located. By bus, we were on the way to crossing mountains; with several speeding-up and descending patterns, so scary was to ride a bus whose driving route comprised spiral mountain paths that seemingly endless u-turns made me worry about how concentrated the driver was, whether we’d be safe or how many cups of coffee might be required for the driver lest he be distracted or sleepy while driving on such dangerous roads like this. I had worried about this, going on a pattern of magical thinking but when I saw Mr.Hsu fallen asleep beside my seat, softly, quietly, my wariness had disappeared. Several months after, while alone, seeing a news reporting that at a narrow steep hill way, Hong Kong, a bus had crashed severely, leaving about 19 to die, never once had I felt so exhausted and painful to recall my own experience of riding the bus then in Hong Kong. Before then, no matter how swingingly or fast the driver drove the bus, we thought that would be fine only to find out that we were much luckier than thought just because we were fine. Fine.
The terminal stop of this ride was at a seashore ville. The boats bobbing on the sea were moored to the wooden piers, seemingly newly-built and refreshing under the meek afternoon light. Most villagers here worked as fishermen, some chefs
With subtropical featured buildings, walking in the narrow alleys in the village was like immersing oneself into Mediterranean paintings. There were seafoods, dried, canned, plasticized, and through which flies winged up-and-downs, placed on the selling tables sold almost everywhere I went.
Serving curious tourists who regarded their lives as objects to be observed must have tired them, especially on a daily basis.
Muddy trails at the back of the village, at mountain-foot and with well-kept trees, were well-preserved. Some metal or wood-built shacks seemed fully occupied and were aesthetic in some ways because of their vividly painted walls. Hearing Cantonese spoken all around by senior citizens, emotionless when facing tourists without giving a look, Mr.Hsu and I were the only couple speaking Mandarin here but not felt lonely.
Mr. Hsu wondered whether I was hungry because we almost hadn’t eaten any except some egg tarts, and bakeries after morning breakfast and it was quite late afternoon. So we had entered a family-owned café, dimly lit and whose owners talked busily as if not caring much about whether there were patrons coming or not. That’s understandable regarding their seniority. Serving curious tourists who regarded their lives as objects to be observed must have tired them, especially on a daily basis.
In a report published on a local newspaper, a teenage girl living in a poor fishing village in Hong Kong giving up her college education told the reporter that her family was under economic strain so she had to quit school after graduating from high school to go working, to earn money to support her younger siblings. ‘Well, I thought that’s what I should start to shoulder.’She said.
It was still too soon for a teen-ager to decided what a future he or she wants if not properly informed. Some may make myopic decision while others unable to realize how important education was that if the time to study passed, the damage caused by the loss of access to education, could be irreversible.
When I walked alone in the university of Hong Kong, a young women referencing maps and a Cantonese guide approached and inquired me about a place which I didn’t know. ‘Hi-bien-do?’ She asked.
I said to her I was a visitor so I cannot help. At HKU’s museum of art was a N.K propaganda exhibition being held. Uninterested in those, I went to the souvenir stall and bought a card cover and left.
On the bus from Tai-ping peak, passing a public cemetery, Mr. Hsu said while in Germany, he found the hotel he and his friend stayed was near a cemetery, concluding that foreigners weren’t feeling what we might feel when being near a cemetery. Maybe that’s because of the influence of Christianity.
When pasting an post to rent her apartment on a bulletin board beside me, casually voiced, a house owner about in her middle sixties said to me, that as her apartment was near the funeral home, she planned to lay a slide linking the window of her house to the home to let her slide down directly to the yard of the home once her time comes.
While I sat on a couch in the hotel lobby reorganizing my suitcase, a hotel manager approaching me, whose back slightly bowed, complimented me on my suitcase and inquired where I was from. I thanked him and answered him that I was from mainland China. Seeing him being in a state of contemplation, I felt regretful of not answering him more precisely when he seemed to expect an answer much more precise than mainland China. I hope he could forgive my uneasiness of answering such questions.
Where I am from? When I was little, being asked about such questions, I answered with my hometown. Some knowingly smiled; some confused. It occurred to me then that as one grows the frequency of being asked about such questions grows too. Not everyone who asks such questions truly wants to know the answer. While in Beijing, encountering a man chicaning on insisting me to look at his superb new iPhone, not knowing that person’s intention and uninterested, I said to him to stop follow me. Contemptuously voiced, he shouted out that art thou from Hubei?
For a while knowing both how useless that people explain to those who deliberate to insult them was and how powerless words could seem while defending one’s stance, I ignored him.
‘Don’t ask me where I come from, ask where I belong.’ An podcaster said. I found by and by, it was to me harder and harder to answer such a question. ‘To answer that question, people need to have a place they could feel and call home.’ I read that line from a newspaper.
There were still newspaper stalls on sidewalks. For in recent decades I witnessed printed-publishings dying off in mainland China because of the declining of the readership in print media, it’s a bit nostalgic to see this used to be taking-for-granted scene reappear but once again our world had proved nothing is truly granted to be here forever. Without newspaper stalls, our past time may be dissolved altogether from our imagination. So I bought a local published English newspaper from an old lady sitting on a stool overseeing her newspapers for sale. That was late morning. Then, I had a new day half-passed but another half-full left here for me to go on.
On the way back to Shenzhen, almost every passager setting on the bus seat fell asleep except me and Mr. Hsu who sat on the opposite seat facing me. I knew the reason I didn’t take a nap then was that the time remained for me to spend on both seeing Hong Kong a bit longer and being with Hsu was diminishing, by and by, to nearly zero. A young man fallen asleep with his hands swaying unknowingly seemed so tired that he must have toiled all day. Hongkongers must have worked very hard. ‘Applying bankruptcy protection now so debt-collecting will be halted.’ an advertisement painted on a building read. ‘Are they happy?’ I’d thought for a moment. Just then, meeting Mr.Hsu’s eyesights, I smiled to him and he returned that smile to me softly. There was a meek silence inside the bus; though everyone seemed tired, we did not. Returning to Shenzhen, looking back at Hong Kong at the starless night, ‘where I came from?’ I’d asked myself.
I’d remembered lines from a poem written by Li Bo and translated by Rewi Alley: “We who live on the earth / are but travelers; / the dead like those / who have returned home; / all people are as if / living in some inn, / in the end each and every on / going to the same place.”
When cleansing our company’s floor, I asked Katie, a female coworker in her twenty-something, about whether she would take university entrance exam again if possible. ‘No’ She answered, fretted.
We work in a second language teaching company where she worked as a sale consultant; I a lecture; both of us were insecurely hired because private company doesn’t guarantee stability.
‘No vacancy for job candidate over thirty’ the company’s hiring ad reads. There were so many demands for second language education that in this company and this sparsely populated city, three of us the lectures cannot satisfy the mounting demands so that hiring new teachers is urgently needed.
A interviewee returned from Bulgaria told me she graduated from university with a vocational degree in Business English and married an Italian husband. Slightly sunburnt, long-haired, whose husband silent siting beside her, she said the thing she considered most successful is that when in Bulgaria, foreign to almost everything surrounding her and lonely, she managed to learn Bulgarian as best as she could under Northern Europe’s chilling condition. With her husband, she also learned some Italian.
After saying goodbye to her, being asked about opinion on whether to hire her, I said her experiences were amazing and said it would be okay to hire her given her willingness to work long-termly.
‘She seemed too old to teach.’ The administrator, a man in his thirties, said to me. Suddenly, I was almost impressed by his remark but everyone sitting around me in the office said nothing. What if we are in thirties? Will there be an opportunity for us? After seeing the administrator leave, uttering those words, I found myself trembling and feeling sympathetic for the interviewee. ‘Private companies have zero interest in protecting workers’ interests; they are no charities.’ One coworker said.
No one had suggested that private companies to be charitable. Rather than turning a presumably suitable candidate away, it’s reasonable to give opportunities to applicants a bit fairly. But at that time, demanding for a fairer hiring seemed a way going too far for them, the administrators.
It may sound true that I had no sympathy for the administrator when he said to us in the office that ‘oh why is it so hard to hire a fit teacher.’ No one uttered a word to him because it was so obvious to know what the word ‘fit’ truly meant in his very mentality that no one bothered intervening. If an applicant is not slimy, wearing proper makeup, dressing sophisticatedly, he may well define such a person as unfit. Once more, one knows that a word is defined by the definers not the defined.
We compromise, bent our souls in order to live. But what we have got in return? Recognition, respect or fortune? Not a thing. One tried hard not to be treated harshly but ended up wounded everywhere inside.
I asked Katie why not go to university again to study a major in which she really interested. Apparently quivered, she said that those high school years were so painfully passed that she has no courage to go back to where she suffered again. ‘My mom was very critical toward me which caused me to have a really low self-esteem and eager for recognition, I do not think I can manage to go back to study again.’ She answered.
It’s true one being criticized often may have a really damaging self-image which can cause self-destructive behaviors. Her upbringing has apparently made her become what she is now but by searching for her salvation, she find consolation in dating.
She casually mentioned that she want to beautify herself to improve her confidence lest she be looked down on by others.
Coworker Roce, a female in her late twenties, was busy in matching ups. She often talk about how difficult to find a proper marriage ‘candidate’ who would be ready in everything including houses, cars, and all you can imagine later in life. She very often uses business words to talk about marriage, such as wealthy, job positions, social status, and money etc. She said a ‘candidate’ was poorer than her family so that she was deciding whether to resume matching-up with that one. ‘You surely are not doing matching up with money, are you?’ Another female coworker shouted out, obviously disgusted.
This office was like a cave’s cave. If human world was like a cave lightened by bonfires and everything happened within was like a shadow, maybe what happened in this office is a kindle of the bonfire flickering at this dark corner of the cave.
Being marginalized, poor or disadvantaged is a thing, losing one’s ability to see the world clearly is another.
In a world full of ill-willed forces, knowing where he or she is going about is a thing that is much mattered than ever.
Once upon a time, there was a boy living in this rural town happily and lovingly; his name is Little Eddie and loved playing with every child he encountered. Wiggling heard from swings, seesaws. He never got bored.
The town itself was and is dreadful. People walking on the street looked dull. Eddie’s family members all worked in the local hospital which is the only one in that town. Once a little girl whom Eddie usually played with was left her residence with packs of suitcases, Eddie stood backward watching, curiously, feeling a bit hollowed out because he never experienced such slightest form of dissociation that for the first time he wanted his family could move to other places suddenly too. Not feeling pitiful or mournful, he just thought that kind of sudden disappearance without saying goodbye was rebellious.
When elementary-schooled, he found he loved playing shuttlecock-kicking and hide-and-seek, so often that some name-caller called him little girl. Little Eddie felt hurt but never really cared about that so long as he could just live and study.
The town itself was soulless. once he was walking along the main street afternoon, a young man seemed bored by this deserted atmosphere approached to him asking where can he find a bookstore. For years he never truly found anyone asked this question to him as if there wasn’t anyone cared about buying books and newspapers so he also pretended not to care much about. But so enlightened was he then that not only did he answer happily but also guided that young man a bit far to ensure he wouldn’t got lost.
The main street was dirty filled with plastic bags and dusty. ‘I dare not eat the snack I bought nearby until home because of the flowing dust in the air.’ A girl walked with Eddie told him, serious faced and her elbow clasped owing to two bulged mounds on her chest. With meek, soft rays flowing over their faces, the sun was declining west.
Eddie had written a severance poem to one classmate by whom he was bullied but decided to keep it secret.
Spring. Wounded heart invisible
Outwards. Softly, sunlight coming into my room.
Streets stretching to the skyline
Dusty, seemingly endless.
Day and night
No longer needing to see thee was I.
So long as I
Grandma Summer had find that piece and mentioned that smilingly to him. ‘Interesting.’ She said. Feeling awkward as his secret was unveiled, he didn’t know how to response but rather stood motionless, beaming awkwardly. ‘You should keep doing that.’ Summer said. That was afternoon and the sunlight as strong as ocean. Happily, he daydreamed of himself naked swimming in the river of life and never feared anything.
Keep that, he told himself.
Some boys in that school teased Eddie by calling him little girl. So often was that calling happened that he felt overwhelmed. Once in the classroom at a spare noon, while everything was as normal as in a dessert, a boy Eddie doesn’t acquaint shouted out “Little Girl.” Tired to defense, unable to swallow such a humiliation at such a young age, he spoke nothing, leaving the room with a strange and saddening silence, only to find out that his classmate Zheng had started to stand out with him saying that no one has right to label a person as such and Eddie has his right to be what he wants to. Shocked and overjoyed by Zheng’s remark and not knowing how to express his gratitude, Eddie for the first time wanted to hug a boy, and thanked him for saying that.
“Next time if anyone tries to shame you, ensure you hit them back to tell them that what I am is non of their business.” Zheng said.
That was afternoon and they walked along home. Eddie had said goodbye to and thanked Zheng for that.
It was then he started to think his town was not that dreadful. There were hardships, but which place have not.
Eddie sat before the railing on the baloney, watching potted flowers blossom. Later in the night, fallen asleep, he had dreamed about sunny afternoons.
Eddie loved crafting, inspired by an America program teaching children about how to make small artworks. He brought oil brushes from a migrant worker’s daughter named Swallow who seemed reckless and whose skin sunburnt. Eddie invited her home to oil-paint but Swallow seemed uninterested, and said she was hungry.
Providing her with food cooked by Grandma Summer, watching her devour down half of the rice in one bite, Eddie disappointed but said nothing.
Small town sold no thing relating to books, brushes, only foods and its residents only play pokers and mahjong to get days by with a river flowing through main street.
There were funeral wagons passing by the main street and sobbing girls hired to mourn the lost; when happened, it usually happened in mornings. Eddie had made a oil-painted ornament shaped like the sun which hung on the doorframe of his mother’s room.
Every afternoon there were people talking about lottery, mahjong and money but they were too poor to be heard seriously. There was only one bank in operation and no supermarket. Everything seemed so lacking that Eddie wanted to escape and never to return.
It’s lunchtime and Eddie’s mother said she would prepare to transfer Eddie to county seat to study after he finishing his elementary schooling.
When real separation came, seeing everything packed up and being sent away and his reading desk nearly ruined, he felt uneasy and almost cried. Only when forced to leave, had he realized living in this lacking-almost-everything town is actually a blessing.
New school was not good if not horrible, filled with bad-habited students who didn’t read books, let alone speak properly. Eddie always wondered what happened to those student to make them not value their very opportunity of getting educated. Girls here wanted love; boys reverence.
Initial days in the middle schooling was fearsome. When sitting still waiting to get familiar with new classmate, instead of finding consolation, Eddie saw girls smoking cigarettes showing their made-up rebellious attitude as if wanting to show they had never experienced hardship or poverty but actually had a lot. The reason why covering up is called so is that it’s so obvious that people don’t bother unveiling.
In his second year in middle school, a transferred in boy named Wong from Shandong started to notice him. Wong was square-faced and spoke Shandong-accented mandarin which hardly can anyone understand what he was talking about at first fashion and to make it worse, he was deadly shy so his voice usually was insects-likely faint. But Wong liked to initiate talks with Eddie. Everything went fine then.
Until it went otherwise when there were only two of them in a corner of the school to cleanse the floor, Wong said shyly that he thought Eddie was goon-looking. Unsure and unable to think about how to react properly, Eddie was suddenly hugged by Wong.
Releasing Eddie from his arms and apologetically voiced, Wong lowered his head saying sorry to him.
Eddie rushed away from him. Suddenly, he felt everyone around him—students, teacher passing be, was like gazing at him, mocking him.
Eddie had never figured out how this had happened. Sometimes he raise his head staring deeper at the clear sky, alone. In his heart of hearts, the sun setting west, reddening the playground of the school that time was indeed as same as ever.
‘Sunshine cleaning’, a movie I watched years ago, presented stories about different women who divorced and tried to restore their savaged lives back to normal with positive thinking and challenge taking traits, and its characters’ willingness to endure and change. For most of us, life may be seen as living with challenges that need to be overcome, and we manage and get through. At that point, every person may be seen as a sort of hero.
the weather, in the Northern Hemisphere is getting much warmer and the sun much brighter and shiner, so shine I feel enlightened, physically. Do you love summer time? Answers may vary but I thought, most people may not dislike sunny days. Sunshine is bright, clean, and loving, and also evokes positive feelings. Looking on the windowsill in my room, full of potted greenies and flowers, which are blossoming progressively like burning kindles. Glistening lights are basking in my room, making it finer and softer. I feel happier staying in sunlit room maybe because that gives people a warmer imagination for our future lives, and strength to overcome the hardships we face.
I’ve always remembered that summer my father took me a tour outside of a elementary school when I was six-year old. His belly bulged and he wore a dark-red T-shirt. Leading the way to that school, on the trail outside the school fence, he turned his face back, facing me, slightly smiled and raised his forearm pointing towards the front-door of the school, saying that he prepared to let me study at that school. I felt his pride while he talking, saw swarms of pupils playing on the playground, crazily, enchantingly. That was summer; the small path we walked outside the school was surrounded by walls of burning ivies and greens. That was an afternoon, the most clear and exhausting one in my memory. “Dad.” I remembered saying and he answered slowly, softly and gently. “That’s a good school.” He said.
After a fierce argument between my parents, my mother had temporarily taken me back to her hometown that year so I didn’t go to that school. Every September when the school year began, I remembered that walk with my father, his gentle tone with his will to enroll me to that school. I didn’t forget though he had never mention that again. But I know as long as summer continues to come I won’t forget that summer when he walked with me beside that school, with water-clean light.
After graduating from university, I had tenanted with one of my schoolmates, in an apartment near a lake in Guanggu, a newly constructed borough in the city of Wuhan. While in university, roommates were eager to find jobs to earn money. “Whatever the job is, I will do; and where there is a job, there is hope.” A roommate joked saying. But if one said he or she doesn’t want to find some work to do then, that won’t be true. They need money to go to restaurants, to buy extra outfits to increase their attractiveness and to show their power. Most of the students I encountered then wanted to work, to improve their living standards.
So hurry was I to find a work to do then that I was lost. I had met a friend, Bee who in his middle thirties, was working as freelance. In his age with an unstable working position, life was fragile and depending on luck. Though getting days by, he loved outings in mountainsides and thus invited me to go outside biking.
We decided to go to Jiangxia, a mountainous suburb in Wuhan, to have our afternoons pasted. We bought transit tickets and rented bikes to go into the forest in the mountain. There were trees and the sun shining sharply, making us sweating like mad. But he loved biking and often turned his face back to me encouraging me to compete with him on the mountain path on which we biked. There were raspberry bushes, whose twigs were full of thrones. Though unwashed, he picked those berries and ate happily, smiling to me. That was summer; there was sunlight. I knew life could be hard. He struggled to find a well-payed job to get him being able to stay in Wuhan. He said he had never thought about buying house in Wuhan, so expensive that he said he would never bother considering. “Do you know where can a person find a well payed job?” He had asked me. Struggling to make my ends meet, I said I didn’t know either. While sitting on the bench in the neighborhood where then I resided, I saw his face darkened, though that was a bright afternoon and the sun was near setting.
He said he always loved days we spent on biking together in Jiangxia’s mountainside because he felt he was alive by our energetic defiance towards money. Though we were both not living high-standardly, we felt happy and that was summer.
After social-distancing measures lifted, cities in Hubei province aim to reopen local businesses. But could the economy of Hubei, which is heavily relying on private sector’s growth to create jobs, be restarting smoothly? In Tome Loulin’s observation in Qianjiang, a small city in Hubei province, there are some silver-linings in a pandemic-ravaged city aiming to reopen its economy.
It has lightly rained hours ago in Qianjiang, a small city in the central China province of Hubei, but now the rain has stopped and the sky darkened with evening breezes flowing through sidewalks. With such an opaque and humid weather condition, streets in the city have been half filled by cars.
Businesses that reopened have mostly been eateries, fruit shops and groceries. Just half past seven, an eatery mainly serving Zhájiàngmiàn and Hot peanut-jammed noodle, or Règānmiàn, which first originated from the city of Wuhan, had just closed its daily service; the owner of the shop, a short-haired young man wearing a purple apron shut the door off; his face seemed emotionless. In ‘the Crayfish Street of Qianjiang’—a nearby road sign suggested—a local attraction known for its sophisticated crayfish cuisine, diners used to be waiting before the entrances of certain local eateries serving crayfish on the street for their turns to dine inside, not this time, owing to the stringent travel restrictions to prevent a second wave of the outbreak. There was only a smattering of customers eating inside eateries which remained all but deserted, bustling no more.
China’s economy has shrunk 6.8 per cent in the first three months of the year compared with a year ago for the first time since 1976, according to the New York Times. “Many people were only buying necessities these days” an interviewee in Beijing said to the Times in the same report. The recessive atmosphere could be obviously felt among pedestrians on the streets who pass roads by without any emotion; only car-horns and ambulance sirens could be heard. The city turned quiet.
“Damned, I forgot to take my mask.” A stroller passing me by and turning back to his store to pick his mask mouthed that loudly to himself. People seemed much restrained emotionally since only their eyes could be seen while walking on the streets.
There were signs of returning to normal. A patron sitting before a dining table in a restaurant, Shāxiànxiaochī, eats his helping while looking on his mobile phone concentratedly; the chef, also the owner of the restaurant, a lady seemingly in her late fifties, with her face mask sliding down to her jaw and hanging on her ears, was wiping her hands clean with a dishcloth. The restaurant brightly lit seemed clean and cozy. Anyhow, people got to eat and they may find their consolation from food, especially at such a cold spring night that nothing could be much wormer than eating a noodle with localized flavor.
As the pandemic interrupted global supply chain, some local businesses aiming overseas markets in Hubei struggled to resume production. A manager of a lotus root plant in Jianglin, a county in Hubei province, said that his company has not shipped its lotus root products to the customers in the US for nearly a week due to an ongoing ban put by the US, Canada and other countries on such products, adding that this year is the most difficult one since the founding of his plant in 2015, according to China Daily
Mr. Xiao, owner of a barbershop in Wuhan said his shop has only served 4 patrons for hair styling from April 8th till now and felt pressured under expenditure on rent but relieved since the landowner of his shop exempted his rent for one month. Though customers were drastically reduced, Xiao feels optimistic about future improvement on profit of his barber shop, according to Hubei Daily.
In a hospital on the Crayfish street, a triage nurse still wore a hazmat suit sitting behind the reception desk; only emergency room was opened for patients. On the opposite of the hospital was a local restaurant, known for its sought-after crayfish dish, and whose signs shone vividly at the night of Qianjiang presented a rare prosperous vision of economic recovery in the future at this currently deserted street.
In a newly opened snack shop near the ‘Crayfish Street’ months ago, the cashier inside sat on a chair, motionless, concentrated on his mobile phone and whose shop lit darkly instead.
1China’s economy shrinks, ending a nearly half-century of growth by Keith Bradsher.—The New York Times, April 16, 2020.
2Falling demands overseas hit lotus root industry in Hubei—China Daily, April, 20, 2020
It was afternoon I walked and cycled on the lanes around East Lake. ‘Green lanes’ square-shaped signs showed. Trees and greens were everywhere as well as people cycling around the lake.
Breezing around the lanes, I saw happy faces as well as saddened, serious ones.
I wasn’t alone; I was with my friend.
There was a teen-age girl standing before the rock-made railing gazing at the surface of the lake, apparently saddened by her personal affairs. There was an unspeakable strength of saying nothing at all around her that could be seen by all passing her by. Had not life silenced people’s ability to express their feelings, they might still be willing to dream.Consciously saying nothing when one was obviously overwhelmed by something is a learned behavior. Learned helplessness, they, psychologists, called. Who had taught them that skill of not expressing their feelings? Mom usually says nothing while her eyes are apparently filled with untold uneasiness as though she have gone through a lot. Idling around the room then sitting on the armchair, mostly she was simply sitting, motionless, silent.
“Find something enjoyable to do, that may do you good.”
She will not listen.
Riding bicycles going towards wherever I was aimlessly was what I thought living. “I love to see you smile.” Zon said while sitting astride a bike looking at me, smiling.
I returned that smile and proceeded going into the deep forest in Jiangxia’s green lanes.
“How could a place be beautiful like this.” Zon meant the serenity of the forest we are in. “So serene that it seemed like a miracle.”
A miracle; It truly was, to me and Zon. So tender was to breeze around the trails in the forest on which we rode our cycles as free a experience as no one could ever have that I thought chancing our ability to understand very originality of living is a way to learn what is really worth having.
While resuming to go into the forest deeper, we expect no thing though still feeling fulfilled. Happiness to me seemed to be be that easy to obtain when we just noticed that there was a loquat tree beside the lane on the hillside and picked up some produce it bore to taste then that we didn’t realize it was such precious a thing to be cherished.
The loquat fruits we picked weren’t much tasty but they were everywhere; other tourists were idling picking those too. No one had said anything; they were eating, searching there for the next source of matured loquat fruit which could be much easier picked. Some seemingly delicious produce those trees bore were on the boughs too affluent to ignore and too high to be picked, about which we feel pitied.
So ephemeral was our trying to remember those sparkling bits in our lives in which we found our consolation when feeling hurt that we didn’t realize just that suddenly a moment we no longer knew what that very happiness was felt like.
Cool winds before night at that time in the forest of Jiangxia flowing through us made us aware again about our very nature of originality.
It had occurred to me that the less we expected about what we might be encountering around next corner of the mountainside, the more meaningful experience we might gain.
On the way home, seeing our shadows first, riding on the bikes, we felt thankful that we were on the right side of the lane at the right time as profound a feeling as a person could never imagine to experience.
And if in another portion of my heart I could still feel that part of me at that time, That smiling face of mine could still be felt there as much real as I could ever be.
There have been stores open over nights; not anymore, at least for now. Walking on a lightless road near a river park in Qianjiang, a city in Hubei province, I rely on the flashlight from my phone lest I fell into some hidden pit holes. Darkness. People walking on the riverside were silent; only footsteps and hiss of cloth frictions could be heard. Not a single pedestrian opened flashlight except me.
Stone-made railings around the river bank had just gone through an installation of decorative lightenings conducted by the city beautification bureau to beautify the park’s night view several months ago. Being sealed off for nearly two months, the city has cut off unnecessary lightening schemes in response to the reduction of the economic activities.
Backstreets are darkened. The impact of the halt of “unessential” business to private sectors remains to be seen. In certain main streets, businesses reopened are grocery stores, barber shops, some mainly-for-taking-out restaurants. If not because of the pandemic, known for the localized cuisine of crayfish, crowded in spring and summer time, restaurants in Qianjiang might already be busy to provide visitors coming from nearby cities the most sought-after dish—Yóumèndàxiā, or Beer-braised Crayfish—while winds breezing through the crowds sitting around dining tables. Now, restaurants serving crayfish are only half filled by customers who wear face masks when talking and strip the masks down while eating then put on again. Hustling no more. Parking lots before the restaurant porches were not fully filled. Dining tables seen from outside remain loosely filled; some who do eat inside seem vigilant.
On the streets, people still wear masks to keep physical distances lest the virus be spread. Children whose gleeful laughters are heard widely in parks and neighborhoods seem the least affected. Sealing off of the entire Hubei province had caused a lack of certain fresh food—such as avocados, beef, fish, etc—and of sanitizing necessities. I’ve gone through this profoundly stringent quarantine by eating one meal a day with some extra biscuits and milks. Lucky was that I wasn’t affected by the lockdown tensely. Unless the state of emergency is lifted entirely, schools and off-school supplement courses won’t be restored soon. For public school teachers adopting strategies to teach students remotely are doing what they would normally do, most teachers working in the private sector are losing opportunities to earn a basic living. The school I work had told us to help students remain engaged by remote teaching via telephones but with the wages delayed severely and sometimes reduced dramatically—though it would be reasonable to see the wages reduced since teachers can no longer teach children in person now—it has never been so hard a time to cope with for me to go through this unprepared breakdown. Under this new reality that private sectors in China are not bailed out and that there were no policies to regard workers affected by pandemic-related redundancy, no thing now may be seen as safe.
No unemployment benefits would be available for those whose companies didn’t cover their social insurance bills since most employers, in private sector, violate labour laws by not signing labour contacts with their employees though in theory they were required to do so. Such cases are not rare in private owned companies. The fact that most people working as part-time workers without knowing that or don’t have social insurances covered by their company is concerning and could shake the pillar of future economic growth. People not working right now are mostly using their savings to buy necessities. If the current economic downturn continues, people might go to find a new way to regard their relationships between working and living. “I might not want to work that hard any more since life is so vulnerable that I want to protect my heath first.”A interviewee said to the New York Times.
“I’ve heard that there might be a recurrence of the virus outbreak.” A senior citizen talked with another while moving her body doing exercises and maintaining physical distance with others.
“America is ravaged by the virus now. Such a horrible thing.” Another uttered lamentably with a flat, low voice.
Most pedestrians passing me by were watching their phones without feeling the need to rise their heads up looking around lest they collide with the electric poles or be tripped by bricks. Once I took my meal out from my grandma’s apartment so hastily that I forgot taking my mask, then walking on the street without wearing one, so strange felt I that I used my collar to cover my face while walking back home. Only being home had I felt relieved.
“It occurred to me that so hot was to wear a mask now.”
“Anyway, No matter how hot the weather is, you get to wear your masks.”
While strolling in an alley, a woman seemed in her thirties chased a fast passing taxi, shouted out “Stop taxi, taxi.” But the driver drove away without stop as if deafened.
Hotels signs in the narrow alley shone vividly as usual as if the good old days come back again; Receptionists inside the hotel lobby seemed idled, sitting behind the reception desk, motionless.
A self-serviced sexual commodities store remained open; ‘open all day’, its shop sign showed. Around corner of a convenience store, a men sitting astride a motor-cycle was smoking cigarette and watching his phone screen concentratedly. Hearing their laughters first, I saw three people in a row walk forward happily. Then came the night of Qianjiang.
“What Henanese are experiencing in China is basically what Jews in Western society had or have experienced.”a fact that Henanese people have experienced profound xenophobic remarks towards them indicates an acute situation facing the people of Henan, a province in central China.
Romy, in his twenties, was going to Beijing to attend a week-long internal training convened by an English teachers association. Conveners came from all over the nation. But regarding to high hotel costs that Romy could hardly afford—though part of those expenses could be reimbursed by the company he worked; for the purpose of minimizing his expenditure while staying in Beijing, he had proposed a message to find a roommate for a two beds business room in a meeting attenders’ chatting group. Jon, a trainee attending the meeting and from Anhui province, responded to Romy.
“Are you hungry?” Jon said to him as they met in the first time before the hotel porch. That was winter but Romy felt Beijing is hardly colder than Hubei, a province in central China and known for its affluent hydroelectric resources. Winter in Hubei is harder to endure owing to its high-humid weather condition making people feel frozen.” Romy said, citing that Hubei doesn’t have a centralized heating system for all in provincial-scale, which northern provinces have.
They went to a dumpling restaurant. “Have some dumplings.”said Jon, insisting Romy to eat some. “I’ve eaten before you arrive so I just accompany you lest you be alone.” He replied.
Their days together went by peacefully enough initially that Romy says that he could not expect more until one thing happened later ruined those all. When they got off of the conference; both of them felt tired and went straight back to the room. Jon was talking in the mobile phone with his mother. “It may be impolite to hear other people talking in phone; but given that you are in such an encapsulated room with such a vocal conversation near you, hardly can you not notice about what they were talking about.” Romy recounts. He then heard Jon’s mother asked “where does your roommate come from?”. Hearing her son—Jon—uttered “from Hubei” to her, she replied with a high pitch saying that Hubeians are very jīng—a Chinese adjective mainly used for derogatory purpose to belittle someone’s traits as discreditable, synonymous with lurking. To say someone is very jīng in China is equivalent to saying the N-word before a person of African-descent, or presenting the swastika symbol before a person of Jew-descent. “I wanted to protest but found that there was no chance of doing so because you are basically a non-participant in their family-talking.” Jon evoked that occurrence, adding that “you cannot go straight saying that how dare you say that to rebuke him for his mother’s use of the word jīng to describe a group of people she dislikes.”
Scapegoating a group of people for the very crisis is irresponsible but that is what most people will do.
Years after that, Romy says that he still feels hurt by that incident. “I find that now hardly can I myself not doubt one’s intention of making remarks about another.” He recounted saying.
Now, with the onset pandemic haunting the world, which is first broke out in the city of Wuhan, Hubei, the stereotypes and bigotry assaults relating to the link between the virus and the province towards Hubeians only seemed to increase. Hotels are limiting and redefining in what a manner could Hubeians be admitted; some hotels outside of Hubei refused to admit Hubeians altogether. A bus carrying Hubeian workers back to work was refused to enter the border of Shanghai. A transportation official said to them “our leader gave us remarks that no cars with Hubei plates could be allowed entering Shanghai.” Thus the true massage uttered from those officials is actually that you the Hubeians are potential virus-carrier. Some migrant-workers form Hubei had no choice but slept on the bus altogether according to a report published on People’s Daily.
“Hubei is not ruined by the virus but by the bigotry bias linking Hubei with the virus, which is baseless as we have undergone a profoundly stringent lockdown for almost two months.” Romy said. “The ruin of Hubei will also be the ruin of the entire nation. Scapegoating a group of people for the very crisis is irresponsible but that is what most people will do. Today’s Hubei, Somewhere else tomorrow.”He said.
“Luckily I am not working outside and not planing to work outside either.”Romy said, adding that the word uttered from his roommate’s mother still makes him feel a bit seething. Reciting that, he said “Though I still feel about that, I know I need to realize that is what made them feel good about; you know, you can not have unrealistically high expectations towards others. That’s what it is all about.”
He smiled reminiscently. “I still feel graceful towards Jon despite of his mother’s remarks; he insisted me to eat some dumplings.”
“I think life is just such that regardless of the challenges you face, we got to learn to let things go and to reconcile with others and finally ourselves.” Romy added, smiled.
Jīng, or jīngmíng, （精）: a derogatory adjective whose use is seen by most people as stereotypical and xenophobic; and whose rough equivalent in English may be the word lurking or trickery.
A report regarding discrimination facing Hubeians first appeared on Guangming Daily, People’s Daily then reposted it on its website as the title of ‘Don’t Let Hubeians Get Stuck on the Way Back to Work, Again.”—《别再让湖北人困在复工囧途》光明日报，March, 24th, 2020
Hearing fireworks booming was in the midnight; Moy, in his early-twenties, had thought that sound might be a false alarm of the lifting of the quarantine measures since the city where he resided was hit by the Coronavirus and locked down indefinitely since.
But this time the initial unsealing of quarantine measures put to this city seemed true; people were celebrating outside, he could hear that. Laying on the bed seeing outside the hollowing, bottomless-dark sky, rarely had he felt so exposed to his vulnerability that though clock is ticking to two, he was still tiredly sobering.
“People always have good hopes,” he thought, “that is a good thing.” During the lockdown, no one was allowed to go outside unless shopping for necessities once within days.
He was home alone and still is. “How’ve you been recently.”the message he received from an acquaintance, Jed, showed; he remembered the last time they conversed and met was almost two years ago in a hot summer. Details relating to what they talked about got blurred in his memory. “Protect yourself while I am not with you.”Jed said while smiling back to him and departing from the train station for home. That was two years ago. He wasn’t sure if not because of the pandemic, whether will they have any contact or not at all. But he knew that Jed’s intention of sending the message was purely out of humanitarian consideration, a sort of regards-exchanging usually happening between normal coworkers.
“I got to measure it out.”thought Moy, managing his words lest he be to overstate while replying.
“It’s fine here. How’s it going?”replied Moy.
Then there was a silence so long he felt trapped, in an otherworldly abyss, and thought Jed might actually not care much about whether he replies to him or not.
“It is fine; not receiving reply from a rather less contacted person is okay and this won’t matter much.” he remembered consoling himself saying.
“It was not his negligence towards me that hurt; instead, it is about my care of politeness. Do not expect anything about anyone except about oneself.” Moy stopped writing.
“I’d love to be your friend.”Moy’d remembered Jed once said to him. Moy thanked him for saying so and thought that would be fine to have a thoughtful friend.
Jed was thoughtful.
He remembered he had once misspoke a French word—plaire—he remembered; hearing Moy mouth slipped Jed didn’t interfere.
“You should pronounce this in this way.” “You need pronounce this like me.”
Coworker here try hard to let them be seen smarter over others and thus assert those so-called correct-pronouncing-suggestions to Moy while he was teaching though there were helps easy to obtain from the internet and dictionaries if he wants and would ask for help if necessary, but he doesn’t want to waste energy to quarrel with them. “People there want respects so desperately that you doubt whether they were sick; what made them such needy for superiority may be their genuine lack of that.” Moy wrote.
Elo, a coworker, transferred from Wuhan to the school where Moy works. “I don’t like of staying in small cities, you know, traditions I cannot bear were terribly hard to get used to; if not of marriage, I wouldn’t, you know.” She said with a shrug while showing her contempt with the rising of her eyebrows.
One day a parent of Elo’s student comes to the school reception center protesting saying “What a horrible teacher of Elo, her accent is exhaustedly unheard-of, how come you the administrator of the school failed to notice her accent and what a standard are you adopting to Elo, who is definitely unqualified of teaching to my child. I want you to change a teacher for my child.”
Moy had just passed by, hearing that dissension, but instead of feeling pity for Elo, he felt a bit guiltily content. He remembered thinking if this is happening to him, they, Elo and others, might feel the same, too.
Such is the life. He thought.
“Am I beautiful?”asked Liz, another colleague of Moy, in the office; as she faced no body but a mirror before her, this question is open to all in the office.
Moy’s face seemed being physically shaken but kept the face muscle tight enough lest his facial emotion be recognized out.
“You are already enough, I mean, beautiful.” Said Elo while patting Liz’s shoulder.
“So happy to hear, wanting to kiss you.”Liz beamed.
“I was confused about whether I was working in a school or a marriage company; you know, everyday, seldom were there coworkers who around me were not conversing things about men or women and physical appearance. Though I know, to them, this might be pretty natural and marriage for them must have been a very urgent thing but I still feel unnecessary to talk that loud about the preferences of their future partners as if they were shopping people, you know, shopping people. I felt otherworldly in this place. I used to think this might be something I understood wrong and thus need to get accustomed to but…” Moy wrote in his dairy. “But they have their choices, that is what made them humane. Why should I wish them to change.”
“For once in a lifetime, just let it go.”he wrote.
“Just let it go.”
Jed had replied to Moy at night saying “Just got your message and wish you will be fine in the future.”
Thinking retrospectively, Moy smiled and still felt thankful that Jed is seemingly fine about current model in which they keep contact, too.
For once in a lifetime, just let this go. Moy thought, “And if this is what our interaction will be like, well, leave it be.”
Leave it be.
“So happy is receiving the message from you that hardly can I find words to say much; only to wish you have a good night.” Moy wrote and sent that to Jed.
Things seemed to go back to normal in this pandemic-ravaged city. Waking in the mornings, noons, he got stretches and tried to be as authentic a person as he could.
Sitting on the bed while feeling the glimmering of the mellow sunlight flowing on his face, shoulders, and hair, Moy felt consoling of the warmth he received from the light.
The outside world was going back to normal; people celebrating with fireworks; and the sun looking strong and powerful. It’s about time to take a good sleep, Moy thought, feeling exhausted while looking outside of the window; how silky the light. How fine, loving, and free.