Going to The Mountains

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.

Reminiscing about Hong Kong, a Memorandum

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.

Night view of a small city in Hubei province, by Tome Loulin.

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.”

Comments about Some Undercurrents in This New World

阅读中文版

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.