Writings of Tome Loulin

This Tranquility, Long Missed

With years passing unnoticed, remembering what made us today becomes a necessity. As this unprecedented change that impacts the way we live ripples across almost every corner of the world, to live has become, it occurred, a specific way of realizing and remembering what we cannot live without.

By Tome Loulin

From a very early time of that summer, I come to imagine that it would only be a matter of time before we again walk together, only to realize that a thing that comes along easily doesn’t necessarily walk away the same way. Everything, it occurred, comes and departs in its own preferred way.

It was about time for me to go home just as you were ready to work when the summer sun whose light glistened through the window of your room was in its prime near Hankou’s side of Yangzi. Seeing my worried face, and voice lowered, you said the watch lost a day ago when we strolled together around a lakeside really wasn’t that important. “It just isn’t.” you assured me, rejecting the offer I proposed to buy a watch for you.

Pinned on the wall of your room were postcards and letters of gratitude you received—from individuals you encountered before in the different stages of your life. In one of such photos appeared a couple in their middle fifties squatting beside a dog before their house near–if I didn’t remember it wrong– Nashville, Tennessee. Before your vivid and detailed recounts about your life in Nashville many years ago, your experience of working there as a K-12 teacher of Mandarin Chinese, the room you rented there, and the beautiful pictures about you and the students you taught, I knew almost nothing substantial about Nashville other than it being the heart of American country music, let alone any intimate imagination about it. In one of these photos appeared houseplants placed on a wooden desk in your previous room; besides a nightstand was a black iron single bed covered with white beddings. And when you talked about Nashville, your voice was like, I felt, filled with ineffable liveliness that was lovingly touching to me as if all of the things that you recounted—green plants, your students, and the days you spent in the States—were emerging afresh from your memory, rippling across mine.

On the windowsill were potted plants you took care of thoroughly; beside it several lucky bamboos in vases growing with time bigger and bigger. Such is the delicacy and sophistication of the way the room was decorated that so much was said, I thought, of your carefulness of life’s beautifulness. After we saw the sun set and biked along the lake of Donghu together, the electronic watch you wore was lost, you, astride the bike seat, said, leaving me several meters away from you speechless because I didn’t expect such thing to happen in a time when all I was thinking of was how could I maintain a happy memory for us and a good impression of me to you. And it was the first time we set our feet together to walk in a park where trees were everywhere though everyone who came here looked indifferent to the issue we encountered.

There was like a sea of people waving up and down on the road by the winds coming afar when I tried to bike as fast as I could to go back to where the watch could perhaps get lost. “If this is truly lost,” I thought, “this evening would be a very upsettingly remembered one.” So, losing almost no time of searching and lying the bike on the ground unlocked, I checked bench after bench near where we had sat around of the evening but found no clue of its whereabouts.

“Why this worried,” you said to me, “it’s truly unnecessary for I could buy another one.”

But somehow, aware of your voice lowered, though still touchingly soft, I felt that until the lost thing be recovered, our sentiment towards each other would never be the same as before. I insisted to buy a watch as a gift to you but very determinedly you refused. So it occurred to me that your sentiment is perhaps that if it was truly lost, so be it. I was not this prepared for this suddenness of change occurred during that evening walk.

Life changes fast. And it truly does, I think when reading the opening lines of Didion’s the Year of Magical Thinking.

Life changes in the instant.

And I start to think of the way we think about each other.

As we walk around the lake and try to know each more, the way we thought of one another exists no longer.

Sideways were bikers speeding toward another way after we got our way back to the room you rented but I wasn’t attentive as was before. Of course, the feeling I had that evening after the event was a travail matter of personal tranquility compared to other life matters but what challenged this sense of triviality was that a parent of the student in your class contacted you and asked whether the watch picked by a stranger in the park was yours thanks to the phone numbers you saved in the watch. I was in surprise, especially after my doubt that there would be zero possibility to find the lost watch given the current social reality characterized by radical indifference of social connections.

Away summer goes and comes back.
Along the lake bank
Over the water was the reflection of the sun
Setting westward back. 

-Loulin

“Believe in the goodness of people.” You had said then. And it was then I was to wonder whether there was such thing as destiny. And from a very early age, immersed in Chinese cultural environment while growing up, I knew destiny is a concept widely believed by many and it was not until the turn of the century that the concept was to lose some of its attractions to younger generations.

But I knew, in that moment, the coincidence couldn’t be more demonstrative to me, which is, you were like the sun whose light shone through the heart of the wounded. It occurred, like what you had already been doing, that to see the positive side of, if possible, everything is how can we better regard the pains we felt while growing up.

Though I lost your connection due to my own carelessness, I tried hard, if not helplessly, to imagine that I didn’t because that experience was just too cherishing to lose.

In trying times like this when everything reported or described on newspaper appears horrifyingly intentioned and purposed, I start to think of the time I spent with you in the very evening, perhaps years before. And it is healing.

This memory, though certain details of it are blurred with time, still seems so close to me that my tears well up when I look back to the pictures I took then or anything related to that memory.

Writing As Remembering

It is with the help of written language that our thoughts and ideas could be more widely disseminated, known, understood, critically examined or misinterpreted in the public so we won’t easily surrender our past to time.

By Tome Loulin

For many times around, I did not know what to remember not because of the forgetfulness but of the heaviness of the things gone too soon to be properly preserved or remembered. Writing is, of course, not all about remembering things worth remembering but imagining also, maybe, because for most of us, there are many different ways of interpretating an event.

Human beings are capable of telling a thing or a story from different angles, increasing the fragility of our already-too-fragile belief of the existing of truth. Writers, who are said to be the truth seekers and to occupy a moral vocation, rarely write for their own interests but for the irresistible urge to tell something ineffably important, something absolutely meaningful.

To this point, nothing stops writers from picking up their pens to write something worth our attention. In this regard, writers are more like attention guiders, instead of attention seekers. The very notion that ‘something important’, if untold, may never find its appropriate candidate who can tell and retell it clearly is still evidently relevant to and resonate with today’s critical minds who have longed for the reevaluation of our living conventions altogether not because the languages we speak fail short to regard this issue but because storytelling as a moral occupation is always a way for us to discover how incompetent a storyteller is. What a great storyteller could reveal is nothing but this: every seeing has a angle and every narrator has a standing. And the question that is yet to be examined critically by all who love, care of, concerned about literature couldn’t be more obvious: are the words we use to record the relationship between our mental world and this physical reality accurate or not, especially when they are used to describe the things that we think are the fact?

People, mostly, use language not only for communication but for the remembrance of personal significance. In our understanding, we, from a very early age, learned to separate things, things that are categorized dichotomously such as ours versus theirs, here versus there, present versus past, alien versus familial etc. so no wonder we are all like edging toward one extreme to another, failing short to maintain a grey-zone where differentness of everything is recognized and preserved as the fundamental prerequisite that guarantees our harmonious existence. And perhaps inevitably, this notion of differentness may sound unsounding to some who prefer the ultimate selection, which is usually another word for indifference, of the competence by the force of nature or natural selection for short.

And by writing, things known or unknown come to our mind in the form of labels, ambiguously defined concepts that are usually self-reflectively over-generalized without proper consideration of the untypical, odd, and rare.

Like photographs that often vivify, permanentize, and seizure the moments personally significant and precious to us because what camera captures is not merely visually preserved images but also the feelings that are related to certain moments and that could hardly be re-experienced without this medium, words are used directly for such purposes but with lesser degree for letters and characters are initially intentioned to record collectively important events. And compared to spoken language, the history of written form of languages is much near and short, suggesting a greater loss of connection between the current and the early ages. And despite of this lateness, writing system is much advantageous to withstand the test of time in term of the preservation of our spiritual selves.

And it is with the help of written language that our thoughts and ideas could be more widely disseminated, known, understood, critically examined or misinterpreted in the public so we won’t easily surrender our past to time. We can get more time to indulge in the past that existed in our mental world, even that past memory may very likely be distorted inevitably by the force of time. But we yearn for that literary remembrance because that may be the own way we can pretend that something beautiful could be at least partially remembered. And for many of us, the factualness of a written record of one’s past is not the point of concern here; instead, it’s the genuineness of the feelings inside the work that we value for we create words in order to preserve our inner selves from which our dreams come.

Walking Along the Way Our Sun Goes

The sparrows that sometimes came to stay before my window were singing. Outside of the window, the trees whose names I was unable to utter were shining under the sun.

By Tome Loulin

Inexpressible Things Unexpressed

A year is a long time to leave any piece on a newspaper unlooked at, and the posts on the Wall Street Journal have been left without a glimpse even longer than that since its usage of a s-word to describe a country in Asia in an op-ed title. I say “unlooked at” instead of “unread” because to read things demands the involvement of one’s imagination while to look always includes the possibility of encountering something undesirable. Ineffably, the business of glancing at certain titles on news outlets got so difficult that the mere act of seeing might tremble my body if certain adjectives or nouns purposed specifically follow their owner’s lead. Yet, the sentiment and reaction I have had since may not be the case for others but I wondered where are those who pen words that way standing and to whom are they speaking?

I remembered, relying on my own memory, a very sense of unsettledness in the last Hubei version of spring when the days and nights of the city where I was staying had been quieter and emptier than ever, and when every word I had read on certain news websites ran contentious and unpredictably purposeful. I remembered seeing convenient stores and home-run business go closed then and streets emptied of vehicles. Do such happenings, I wondered, have an innate purpose or meaning? Things are always things that happened and kept happening. And the nature of happenings is their proneness to different interpretations good or bad, depending on the values one holds. Thus, judgments are never about the things themselves; contrarily, they are the evidence of a radical conceptualization that is usually self-reflective and distorts the defined, beheld, and judged involuntarily, which could hardly, if not never, reveal the true image of certain happenings.

It was such quiet a time and a place that the impression of a material nothingness was for the first time being that vividly felt. There is, certainly, nothing more devastating than witnessing the very ways of our existence being disrupted in certain eras like this which has been characterized by nationalistically motivated extreme rhetoric and ideologies that kept shadowing this material world. Unsettledness was not the word that would normally come often to my mind; actually, so rare that never once had it crossed my mind before my personal encounter with certain adjectives I saw or heard somewhere online a year ago or so. And since then, the search of spiritual tranquility has never been so urgent that the futileness of this endeavor is unfathomable as trying to walk through a pathless wasteland without any navigation. And it was since then that, from the impressions I got from certain news outlets online or so, the people in the country where I live, whose endurance in trying eras like this has for a long time gone unnoticed and whose stories untold, were being depicted purposefully, mostly to suit the narrative needs of the narrator. Stories are always the production of the storytellers, never the described’s. The hard truth may be this: the people that were invisible to certain media before have suddenly been depicted thickly because there is a usefulness being found in them. The usefulness of creating an exotic narrative that may grasp the attention of another group of people. And to most news medias, before this intense need to scrutinize the unseen, which is created by certain unprecedented occurrence, the existence of some people whose socioeconomic status deteriorates or seems relatively travail are almost always being deemed unworthy of covering, let alone present in a normal light. Of course, they did and do exist but for the cause of this invisibility, it’s, the outlets may well evidently argue, due to the nature of their existential powerlessness. And because of the widely spread assumption that to go on living is to expect anything to happen, indeed, anything, imaginable or not, it’s no surprise to see how radically unequal and distorting is the distribution of the power that decides whose stories could be told and whose not. Yet, it is the hard lessons that should have been lessoned early in order for us to maintain our composure. And we get to be prepared early for certain things, things that may get us if we didn’t get them first. But too often than not, certain things are not here to be readied. It’s perhaps because to ready things that seem hard to be foreseen risks us to appear thinking magical. So, when I learned the paper that used the s-word to describe the country where I live was clarifying that the word that was considered offensive by a group of people is actually very frequently used by various news outlets around the world, indirectly suggesting it was the hypersensitive reaction of certain group of readers, instead of the abusiveness the use of the word may cause, that is undefendable, being silent or not was certainly not an option, for having our lips moved is one thing but getting the voice run out of our lips heard is another.

Houseplants on the windowsill of Tome Loulin’s rented room in Hubei, late March of 2021; photographed by Tome Loulin (Tommy H. Loulin)

“Nobody was minding us, so we minded ourselves.” Toni Morrison has written in the foreword of her book Sula, depicting the difficulties she had faced as a working woman then in the sixties with two children to take care of while at the same time continuing to write novels that were unencumbered of other people’s expectations.

For there are certain outlets whose very ways of depicting the reality have brought a lingering atmosphere of horrifying, I should stop looking lest I be overwhelmed.

Tome Loulin

We are travelers who travel around a world that we all share but fail short to understand. I knew it is hard, for there have already been so many physical barriers that estrange, divide, and isolate us, oceans, mountains, rivers, deserts and straits, just to name a few; and we are left with little wonders about the spiritual barriers that impede the completion of a common tower in our mental world. I used to have wondered the purpose of newspaper. Is it to inform or to influence the public, to make a difference out of the indifferent or to sensationalize the sensible. And anyone who believes that there would be an apparent distinction between the truth and the fact to be made would hardly find their relief in reading remarks that name-call any group of people; I also wondered that if what we read doesn’t matter, what would matter to us spiritually. No matter for what a purpose we are reading—be it getting informed, forming connections, finding spiritual relief, or knowing our world better—we are seldom interested in reading for misunderstanding, confusion, division etc. For there are certain outlets whose very ways of depicting the reality have brought a lingering atmosphere of horrifying, I should stop looking lest I be overwhelmed.

Asian is perhaps too powerless a word to be used as an identity marker for the people of Asia whose identity is usually reduced to certain abstract label and stereotypes that confuse the line between the us and the other and between the familiar and foreign. I wondered how come I call myself Asian or Chinese instead of Zhongguoren in the first place as the two are sensibly never the ones that we use to describe and define ourselves? Asia is from the initial naming of a place then called Asia Minor, which is not a place near where I’ve been living. Chinese, unlike the word Zhongguo, is not the word we utter in the language we use daily with our family members, friends, teachers, doctors, strangers, and persons who live here in Zhongguo, too.

Early spring in Hubei; photograph by Tome Loulin

When reading certain type of essays whose function, originally, should have been to inform with carefully checked materials but has now been way more confusing has turned into a tormenting process, I felt an urge to abandon it for good because, if this thing is left disregarded, there would certainly be a series of unquenchable surges of unsettledness and powerlessness that is to catch me, in the end of my day. I should think more of those who are compassionate, kind, regardful, and loving and who would not call our desire to a world, to which kindness, moral seriousness, altruism, and compassion are the passport, unrealistic.

It’s been about a year passed without feeling how warm the sunlight is. As I walk across the roads in one of serial cities to which I relate in Hubei province of Zhongguo(China), it occurs that not a moment has been passed without getting the impression that anything non-human makes more sense to me, from the houseplants I planted on the windowsill of my rented house to the birds that had come before the window to sing a while. I feel thrilled by these beings’ ability to look contented with so little materials they could get.

The sparrows that sometimes came to stay before my window were singing. Outside of the window, the trees whose names I was unable to utter were shining under the sun.

I crossed the road where taller trees with big boughs were dotted and lined sideways, sheltering walkers and bicycles passing by; not afar was the water of a lake waving and glistening in the sunlight as the clouds over us were spreading eastward or so.

‘twas so empty, yet so bright over the lake in the campus of my school. Other passersby beside the lake were watching sideways, picturing the gradual setting of the sun in an ordinary winter afternoon, the only sun we’ve had.

And it’s about time, perhaps, to go on walking for the spring is to come.


By Tome Loulin (Tommy H. Loulin) in Hubei

23rd, March, 2021

Radical Authenticity: Looking at Abdellatif Kechiche’s Films

阅读中文版

by Tome Loulin

I’m made and remade continually.

Virginia Woolf

Filming is creating ways for us to see something different, familiar, unseen, seen, exotic, and alien in a new sense maybe because for most of us, seeing only one side of something is not enough and film provides us with the opportunity of seeing the world differently. Now, it’s almost ubiquitous to speak of film metaphorically as one of several popular metaphors regarding film goes that every person is the protagonist of their own film; Similarly, that the metaphor that life is a lengthened film is used and accepted so widely suggests we all have a want to feel our life is worth watching, i.e. worth living and the pain we have endured. Unlike literary works that evoke us to imagine a mental world that enriches our real world experiences, visual arts like film present us with a different way of focusing and of paying our attention. Choosing a film to watch is like deciding to pay a very different attention to something that we haven’t been well aware of. Yet, almost every kind of art is focused on our utmost desire to authenticity—what we are and where are we going?

The purpose of creating an involved plot is, perhaps, to make those who expect to discover something that could only be found in film think deeply about the themes that often require more serious attention in order to see the true depth of truth. Most of the films Kechiche directed involve critical inquiries to real life struggles that socially marginalized groups—such as North African immigrants in French society and sexual minorities—have experienced. In Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013), the emotional span of the whole film is extremely broad, giving audience a different sense of reality.

In Blue Is…, Kechiche depicts the emotional and professional apprenticeship of Adèle, a high-school student in Lille who falls in love with older art student Emma. The pair embark on a passionate sexual and domestic partnership, the film tracing its stages from two protagonists’ first encounter to the sublimation of their relationship and from their parting of ways to post-separation reunion, which gives the viewer a touched and engaged experience with a sense of being involved in an alternative reality.

This authentic way of telling and showing something that is too hard to be told and presented properly brought a sharper contrast between the romantic imagination and brutal everydayness in actuality, as the story presented by the film is already too tough to experience, let alone review it.

Tome Loulin

In the film, the focus is put on the irreconcilability and fragility of inter-class communication. It is almost too hard for a film-goer after seeing the film not to absorb the theme that the ordeal of inter-class loving relationship is eternal given that the film’s depiction of an often-overlooked reality is almost as vivid as ever, i.e., the difficulties and social invisibility experienced by sexual minorities and the marginalized.

Speaking of the art of performing, Kechiche’s way of directing is an authentic one if not brutal. In an interview with the Guardian, he was described to ‘delight in bringing untested non-professionals to the screen.’ This faithful, if not radical, realistic way of art making is nothing unheard-of before. Art itself as a profession is about realism at first place. And before the camera was invented, paintings, except for its religious use, were widely made for the purpose of depicting the powerful and upper-class elites. Ordinary people before the age of camera were deprived the right to visual artistic creation. Art history is a history of exclusion because of the great division between the poor and the rich. And of course, the access to artistic creation is not all controlled by the powerful, the well-off, or elites but there did exist some hurdles that obstruct a more inclusive artistic imagination from emerging anew.

From 19th century Russian realism tradition to postmodern reflection on radical modernistic experiments in art, there is certainly a revival of a new taste for realism in artistic creation. Regarding his working-class upbringing, Kechiche, born in Tunis in 1960 but resettled to Nice with his parents at the age of five, reflects “For me the important thing about living there (his flat in Paris’s Arabic area, Belleville) is that it’s a working-class district, it’s the social rather than the ethnic aspect that matters.”

Through his depictions on working class people, we see something unseen but extremely familiar before, which is our innermost authenticity. Life is not about pretention nor is art.

Tome Loulin

The narration of Blue is…, is a lifelike one, and this radical authenticity is further reinforced by a scene depicting Adele, the protagonist with a working-class background, walking alone in the alley, being the final climatical point at the end of the film. This authentic way of telling and showing something that is too hard to be told and presented properly brought a sharper contrast between the romantic imagination and brutal everydayness in actuality, as the story presented by the film is already too tough to experience, let alone review it. Perhaps because people can more or less share this kind of love – the complex feeling that returns and goes away like a lonely self-reploquise, it is also a unique taste of sadness mixed with happiness.

It is not the first time that socially marginalized experiences are depicted and focused by Kechiche. Before Blue is…, there is Couscous(2007) whose subjects deal with old-ages, immigration, and remarriage—all hard ones. It could hardly say that what Kechiche experienced in his childhood as an immigrant in French society doesn’t influence how he interprets about art in general. Through his depictions on working class people, we see something unseen but extremely familiar before, which is our innermost authenticity. Life is not about pretention nor is art.

Kechiche’s imagination about what lens should focus on creates a new way of seeing the unseen. In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein wrote that a mental image is the image which is described when someone describes what he imagines. By imagining radical-authentically, our very ideal of how should our authenticity be defined and presented gives us a new way of describing the experience that we had felt extremely familiar with but rather incompetent to describe accurately. And, of course, our specific way of seeing and imagining what matters to us does matter.

Tome Loulin
Feb 15th 2021

On Self-emancipation

There is something deeper inside of us that is calling, urging us to escape something else; yet, hardly could we find out where and what it is. Something, it’s always the notion of something that is most hard to be named precisely or defined properly, so is our notion of self-liberation, which is hardly an unattractive concept–different people interpret it differently–and has thus gained a lot of philosophical and literary attention seriously.

Virginia Woolf wrote in her book, A Room of One’s Own, that “lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” indicating a sense of insecurity that has been felt throughout times by people who write while at the same time worrying about their restraining circumstances. Fear for the spiritual and artistic creativity being deprived by a lack of material security and of personal privacy still resonates to a large audience today. Many difficulties facing us today are still basic ones–the lack of personal space and financial security.

Many people are still consumed by issues like poverty, abusive upbringing et al., making them hardly able to write about something other than a reflection of what they experienced, out of anger, insecurity, and helplessness.

It’s no good, perhaps nightmarish, to have no choice but to live in a dorm with two other strangers during the first semester of my postgraduate programme, with covid restrictions–unable to move out, having no means to avoid the sense of being envied against, but to endure this, in this dorm, a strange and foreign space. Being forced to live with those unmindful of what you are valuing is like preparing a meal that would certainly be left uneaten–in vain.

It was raining when I stepped out of the bus that carried me to the university. The first time I went to Wuhan in years after the pandemic. Everything, almost, I saw—Xiangzhang trees, tiled roads, and stone railings on the lakefronts in the campus—was getting wet.

I remembered that several months before when I was walking on the road to the dorm with one of the strangers and listening to NPR news podcast, the stranger suddenly said out loud that ‘you learn so hard that I feel pressured.’ For a while, unable to process what I’d heard exactly perhaps because it was too novel a realty to grasp immediately, I replied: “none of your business.” But certainly, this boundary-shaping answer opened the door of an ineffable animosity between me and the person.

Concerning literature, rarely do authors write their unpleasant experiences without proper reasons or contemplation because to write about something means to examine the matter deeper and to tell the truth instead of purely presenting different social phenomena one observed in his/her daily life. To write seems to me like transcending our current understanding about something—something unnameable, never told before—and making the unseen seen and the unheard hearable in an imagined space where things are observed in a thorough fashion. But writers’ commitment to truth-seeking doesn’t mean that absurdities and hostilities observed in human world are not worth serious attention. Instead, to understand certain social phenomena in which serious literary imagination took place has required even more time for writers to process what we thought we know, how can we describe the subject properly and what we tell to readers in general. Perhaps because our society didn’t pay much attention to social-gendering and sexually derived judgements about social norms, many people around me still talk in a way that assumes my personal image is somehow defined by my biological gender, which as the fundamental notion of our social functioning is socially constructed.

It’s no exaggeration to say that heterosexuality has unfeelingly shaped the ways that our society structures and social norms are formed as well. Many languages in the world are gendered ones, making the potential resistance to this linguistic gendering even harder for us to put up with–it’s already occupied our mental world. because of the heterosexual dominance in our social structure-shaping, it’s worth noting that in literary discourse, what has shaped our mind can shape our culture; and there have been many literary works deemed classic helping construct the ethos of an ethnicity and these works are still mostly the ones that reinforce an imagination that many minority groups could hard relate to. No wonder Cao Xueqin, a male writer, would write in his novel Hongloumeng or the Story of the Stones(1791) that the male body is made of mud but the female body of water; this plain heterosexual idealization certainly reflects the writer’s thought about relationship between gender binary and heterosexual dominance. In many ways, our literature world is still dominated by certain forces of gender-derived stereotypes about social minorities whose voices were often left unheard and silenced. Somehow, the current shape of power structure in literary discourse reflects directly that in our society. We are taught to be the member of a society instead of our family now because the way we make us alive has drastically changed. We learn certain ‘useful’ skills through compulsory public education that usually reinforces a preset ideology of gender norms, which often took many years for a person to undo, to fill the social role that is deemed valuable in order to survive. While regarding literature, we hear the voices of the powerful that usually shape ours in order to write, to get fit literally by following these social and cultural standards, to write ‘appropriately’. But independent-mindedness is not getting our society’s approval nor is the purpose of writing. Imagine how hard it would be to describe a same sex relationship in a literary work comparing to a ‘normal’ one and how risky it may seem to write a piece, a serious one, about sexual minority without being judged in a way that rarely has a heterosexual romance writer has been.

The very sense of inequality both in our social survival and in our aesthetic creation could still be felt powerfully in our everyday experiences. One, who as a member of a marginalized group continues to dedicate his/her marginalized experience to the very artistic creation, would certainly encounter the very sense of being constantly judged in a way that rarely had heterosexual or mainstreamed persons understood or wanted to. Their indifference to our untold, unspeakable, and socially silenced sufferings is the most obvious indication of their collective ostracisation–we do not belong.

Being socially excluded in a closed space where escape is hardly an option means to endure a nonverbal cruelty inflicted by a majority group aimed to enforce their values, through the indication of group hatred against perceived outsiders.

Not hearing, not seeing, or not minding anything related to the marginalized group is perhaps the easiest thing to do. What’s not easy for those majorities to do is to not define, label, and name ‘them’ and ‘us’. I am not what ‘he’ sees and thinks. I am, like any mortal beings in this world, undefinable. Why should they think they have the authority to define our identity and have the power to tell us how we should feel about what we feel? Abnormal or normal, mainstream or marginalized, where is the line?

回顾

我问是否可以连他的音箱,他点头,表同意。那时已是晚夏,湖边的微风拂过,归去时我走在后面些,旁边有自动售水机,走进才发现灯光下都是昆虫,好在水不受影响。

心渡

大海在天上,云是海浪

不知名的人在桥栏边

温润的水岸边

晚夜微暖的风

远望着,纯然的青峰

川行的人流间

有位渡翁

行舟在这片人海间

无名的树木,还有多少岁月青葱

暗淡的倒影,自行车行过匆匆

也许,那无名的树林间

也涌过这夏日的水潮

从此后

心中的浪,还有多少年岁涨伏

-楼林(Tome H. Loulin)
2020 湖北

Tome H. Loulin

The Years

曾经在熙攘的街头穿行,戴耳机,疾风驶过的人流中,偶尔迎风流泪,因为戴墨镜,所以不太在意。与他一同在东湖骑行,中途休息,我坐在椅子上望着落日发呆,身后是往来的骑者,他特地带了移动音箱,仿古式的,样式别致,播放的是一首法文的歌,我强学发音,许多都念错了,他沉默着,用手机拍下了那湖面上的落日。我问是否可以连他的音箱,他点头,表同意。那时已是晚夏,湖边的微风拂过,归去时我走在后面些,旁边有自动售水机,走进才发现灯光下都是昆虫,好在水不受影响。我回访武汉只记得东湖适合散步谈话,因为风景好,那晚却不复往昔的寂静,不知是否因宣传的多了,还是没有其他合适的自然公园。

他曾住一厅式的公寓,布局温馨。在家的时候,我的祖母看到我睡最小的房间,便同我说,等我去学校后就搬到小房间睡,因为温馨。他的书桌上堆放着资料,上面是贺卡与明信片,多是学生写的感谢信。现在写信寄信的人少了,心里总是空落落的,觉得是信息时代的憾事。正好在这里满足了这感受,沉默的房间里,时间仿佛也慢了些。

美国疫情刚受关注时,NBC电视台放慰问卡片销售攀升的消息,许多人为逝者的亲人寄慰问卡片,是比电子化信息更能表达关怀之意的仪式。看到电视上播放的卡片,想起了在我的母亲曾短暂经营的文具店里,我曾总是翻看明信片,偶尔看到信上预先印好的小句子,大多数携语,心里总感到亲切。

行旅归后,很少有机会重访东湖,也许是怕独行,熙攘的人流间,独自行走有突兀感,三三两两的人影下,怕那种特别感受。我总是这样,独自的时候,就想与人同行的感受。偶尔夜深的时候,淋浴水流过,心中涌过温热的水潮,不喜欢开灯,觉得LED灯光不自然,所以宁愿漆黑些,玻璃门的亮光点缀着,像暗潮。


家中

那时,也许是还在成长着,对夏日有亲切感,当然其灼热的午后除外,第一次去北京的时候,是几年前了,近秋,但还是炎热异常,是干热,所以穿长袖长裤也适当,汗水较易干?曾经,在家乡的夏日,自己用一个午后拍照——用三脚架拍摄。现在摄影师不容易找,所以自己拍。

搬回家的时候,做好了去沙哈拉的准备,小的城市与年轻人不大相符,但因为房租的缘故,所以回家乡还是较理性的选择。我用手机控制镜头,沉默中,只有窗外知了的声音陪伴我最久,像生命的鸣奏曲。

Myself These Years in Retrospect, A Notetaking

It seemed like a remindful aphorism to me that though years could have passed unnoticed, some memories were still as vivid as ever when being reminisced about thanks to the photographs taken before.

Photography itself is like a partially immortalized and visualized bit of time, which as a collective concept is itself hardly an accurate conceptualization; and if taken in the light of personal significance, it’s also an concept invented for the societal convenience as whole in the use of reinforcing a socio-historical consciousness to us. Time as well as history could be seen as an necessary invention that was flawed at the first place; history in general as we know it today is the history of a selected few with many critical memories and recounts of the powerless unseen, unheard, and forgotten. Thus, the impossibility of being neutral and impartial becomes almost a feature in conceptualization of time and history. It is of course a standard that could hardly be achieved but what is the most rattlingly worrying is the false perception of this notion of history and time being just and fair when it is actually not. To historicize is both to emphasize and exclude.

Though living in the same time, a senior’s feeling about time is different with that of a younger person. Because time is basically something needing to be felt, the objective concept of time is ultimately incompatible with a personal one. That’s because we simply cannot feel the same way that any other does. Moreover, with the help of photography preserving our moments, we further individualized our interpretation of our lives, liberating our being and existence from other’s interpretations because of the assumption that only we ourselves could recount about our personal experiences uncritically. Though our memories could be involuntarily distorted by the passing of time, we still have a fond impression about what had happened then. Our own personal history thus becomes our own understanding about life, yet, the one unlike any other. We need to safeguard our own rights to interpret our lives and this is made possible with the almost universal access to cameras and other photography generating machines because to remember our time is to remember the scenes and the mass availability of cameras helps democratize the ways we interpret our own memory.

Whether a year is defined as significant or not depends on the preferential interpretation by the powerful. And for so long, people define a time or a era’s signification with the help of photographical works deemed representative that we forgot so easily that without our own personal memories, there will be no collective ones at all. Ours is a visual memory that has been unseen for so long that history has almost in turn become a kind of re-constructed imagination forced by the powerful. Time is an incomplete concept, and, yet, could hardly not be. There, our preserved moments are collectively a recollection of our own imagination unlike any other.

Home, Qianjiang
It was the first summer I stayed in my hometown after entering my early twenties. Summers in one’s youth seemed to be imaginative, passionate yet filled with constant worrying about the lastingness of a season that is characterized by its hot-to-kill heat, symbolizing the ardency of man’s life in general.
Because I used to take self-portrait by camera alone, a habit I developed during years of living in Wuhan after a acquaintance took several photos of me, arousing my interest in preserving my own life in photography. ‘How precious are our living moments,’ I murmured to myself while looking at a photo of me taken years ago showing me standing between fields near a lake; In that photograph, I wore a dark-pinked shirt which I still like to wear and my eyes looking straight at the lens with a air of benignity. What was I thinking?

I took the photo with a sense of nostalgia about my previous life in the city when looking on the phone screen trying to control the camera remotely, I wore a white vest then, sitting on a bed, focusing on capturing the ephemerality of summertime. It’s a summer filled with these montaged scenes, yet, a unforgettable one.

I used to joke to myself that young people should go for bigger places because nowadays small cities have turned to be deserts of love. There were not many young people in small cities but with the rising rent prices, I, who was from a small city, could not afford the rent in a bigger one, thus, having moved back home.
I remembered I was recovering from a teeth-related condition and had contemplated solitude. Solitude, for awhile it seemed to me, is the source of kind self-regarding and self-reconstruction.

In Provincial Museum of Fine Art of Hubei.
After revisiting Chang Yu, my college classmate, in Wuhan, I headed with Chang for the Hubei Museum of Fine Art where I had toured with other friends before and found it very fit for lonely wanders like us, a kind of spiritual shelter.
Strolling in the streets of Wuhan, one could not help feeling a sense of hollowness due to the road-reconstruction plans. Yet, with a protesting banner hung before piles of dirt and noisy trucks passing by, no person walking here would not be aware of the rawness of the city life here, a brutal beauty mixed with an anticlimactic flush of noise.
Several paintings exhibited there then were about half-naked bodies of different females. He, Chang, was interested and borrowed my camera to try to capture some of those paintings. Other spectators mostly middle and senior aged were not disturbed and the museum was as elegant and quiet as ever.

Last Year before Heading for My Postgraduate Studies.

That was the first teacher’s day gift I received after working in a second language teaching facility and it was unexpected because of the naughtiness of the students I was teaching and tried hard to tame, reading educational psychology to try to find solutions but mostly in vain. The flowers were from a parent of the student who looked and behaved very fondly. I thanked the parent for the gift and it was a bit hard for me to walk in the streets back home so that I waited till very late in the night to bike home.

The black scribbles on the card she wrote wished me to be happy daily. She is kind of parent who smiles heartedly when encountering teachers; and that kind of smile of her was something I hadn’t encountered for years, and something that reminded me of my own self in earlier years after graduation, ‘the sincerity found in your smile is so powerful that it speaks a lot of who you truly are without sounds.’H.L. had said to me, referring the way I smiled. Sincerity, sure; but innocence, also. And innocence is something too fragile to preserve, let alone hold firm. It’s simply too hard.

So pitiful is that flowers could hardly be preserved forever that I had stared at the petals for about a half hour. Still it was too short a time for flower-viewing and too precious a gift I’ve received that I took a photo to try to remember this moment a bit longer.

“Why taking photos recording bare hollowness?” someone had asked questions alike.
Perhaps, I thought, it’s for the life itself. The objects in the frame were dark, doomed, looked at with a narrow angle. Under the shabby roofs in that Spring festival holiday were people living. They were not rich materially, yet, though their new year imagination might be different with that of the abundant, their lives are no smaller than any.
Beside houses were trees growing, year by year.

Remembering the Unrememberable

By Tome Loulin

Seeing the sun set is like watching the most difficult and touching part of a movie, yet, having no control, just watching.

Partings and sorrowfulness are things worth remembering instead of forgetting, perhaps, for to live is to remember the unrememberable.

That was about a late autumn evening when I came out of the library that the reddening glow of the sun vanishing bit by bit. There were breezes coming from the lake beside the road. For so many years in my life I haven’t seen such warming and loving a scene of sun-setting that even the mere looking at the red round sun moving afar and down could make me unable to think out of the unthinkable past inside my heart.

I knew why I was vulnerable to sunset. Same is the place where I was walking alone to another walk I have had years ago when the person companioning me then was still studying in this university. Now it’s me alone in this campus. Maybe it’s late to reminisce about those walkings-along.

A lot of people beside the lake bank were photographing the sun with some who ride bikes making a stop to memorize this moment. What has been memorized?

I bought some oranges and packed milks after a dinner of stir-fried noodles, thinking it would be healthy to have some fruit for I haven’t been having fruit for about a month. It’s very easy for a person to forget to take some fruits, especially for those economically strained for the price of fruit has been steadily risen.

Days have become much shorter in colder seasons. After walking back to the library with almost a river of people passing me by, I find an place beside a tree to sit down and take my fruit and milk out to eat. There were many bikes parked in lines before me. The light is dark so those passing me by would not see clear that I was eating.

Before me is a girl who also ate and whose head bent a bit low. It’s not a particular thinking for me to find that the girl’s manner of eating had reminded me of another colleague of mine who has been friendly. Her signature smile to almost every one made me think of the sunset I’d seen hours before that day.

Though it was not a particular evening that I have taken some photos to record, Yet, looking at the photo is still something hard to forget.

In the evening, a soft voice from a girl trying to record the sunset went on: why am I unable to depict the sunset as it is?

秋日的夜

想起陶渊明的田园诗歌,不知,夜深的山林间,是否也是这样,冷淡间的独特感受呢?也许是幽静中带些深沉的想象,古代诗人的避世情节倒是比较容易满足。

by Tome Loulin

从理发店出来后,望着月光下的校园,深秋的晚夜,路上零星有些行人,湖边是寒雾,飘到夜路间。理发店的洗发师领着我进去,他微笑着,许久没有见陌生人对自己微笑过,好像偶尔抬头看到完满的月亮。洗头的时候,温水冲淋着我的头发,他的手好像也感到了些凉意,“哎。“他似乎自责道,又把水温调高了些。其实冷水我也可以洗,只是很久没感受过这样的温度,心中全是棱角分明的方块在碰撞着。“因为压力大了些,所以头……”我没往下说。“不会的。”他立刻回道。沉默中,自己好似冲刷在这暖潮里,正好流过水池的水也是温热的。

“不要把学习看的太紧了,压力太大了对身体不好。”他轻声说着。

“嗯,的确是这样的。”我回复道。

“以前在学校的时候,有感触,学习之余要多放松。你们现在有电脑,不一定玩游戏,偶尔看视频放松一下对身体也好。”他又说道。

温热的水流在发间流过,人闭上眼睛后就像在另一个世界,眼皮覆盖的视野,一切都是暗红色,黑色,他说话是协商似的口吻。也不是很特别的嘱咐,在那狭小的世界里,心中却好似有股暗潮涌过,自己很久不流眼泪了,但还是很知道这特别的滋味。

头发短些了,感受到的夜寒也深了些。薄雾的夜路间,一边是高大的树木,一边是栅栏外的车流,大部分时候都是我自己一人行走着。路灯下是模糊的影。从一条小路间走到回宿舍的大路边,寂静的树林间,暗绿色的草叶,有些像聊斋里的背景,自己好像不在现代,在古代。一人独自夜行,背一些行囊,无任何盘缠,黑暗中,也可能碰见别的什么来。古代的荒野间是所谓的江湖,好在自己只是匆匆过客,一切也不太沉重,那暗林间的石子路。

想起陶渊明的田园诗歌,不知,夜深的山林间,是否也是这样,冷淡间的独特感受呢?也许是幽静中带些深沉的想象,古代诗人的避世情节倒是比较容易满足;独自徘徊的时候,前路好似就如前方那幽暗的树林一样,宁静中带着些自己的想象。我们也要快乐一些。

独自徘徊夜径边,远槐幽然明月天。沉寂的秋夜里,白色的夜光,正好是明月将圆的时候,夜深也不太暗淡。

In A Misty Late Autumn Night

by Tome Loulin

It is dark in the night that I walk and walk after having my hair cut. “Because of the stressful lifestyles I was living, I am worried about this.” I murmured worryingly, gazing in the mirror reflecting my curved brows in the dim-lit room. “Don’t over worry about that.” The hairstylist beside me had consoled me saying. While lying on the hair-washing bed, feeling the warmth both of the water and of his hands touching my hair, I started to think of my family. “Besides learning things and reading books, try to have some relax because if you always read you will get bored perhaps even ill.” He continued, still washing my hair, softly. It’s because this hair saloon is located in our university campus that these staffers are hospitable while, quite contrary, if one goes outside of university, he may mostly experience certain kind of hostile and degraded services. “Yes, we students really need to take this easier for our health is the top priority and thank you.”

The hairstylist kept talking about the importance of having some recreational activities during university years. “Looking back in my own time in school, I always feel having some rest is important and sometimes I had been climbing off the walls that meant to prevent us from sneaking out of the dorms in order to play video games.” He said murmuringly. It has reminded me of some of my former classmates in my middle school years. Their innocence. Their lives. ‘Yeah, you said truly. We should have to get things a bit easier.” I replied, otherwise, it may prove to be too painful to go on living. To go on living.

So misty is the trails in the forestry park in our campus that while walking through the trial I felt as if turned back to ancient when there were scary hearsays intended to scary those who travel in the night: the possibility of getting caught by ghosts and robbers etc.
But with such a serene night, I feel for the first time after enrolled to my graduate school a sense of liberation, away from the external pressure, the pressure to be living up to others’ expectations and demands in order to have my humanness recognized. Walking alone on the roads in the night where other persons can seldomly be seen is sanity-saving. One needs no one to confirm his or her wholesomeness in order to feel loved and worthy of self-loving, instead, we need only our own bodies under completely our own control.

So loving is the people-less road where I am walking in the night that I start to feel being alone is another form of becoming free, free from others’ judgmental eyes, free from their watchful eyes. Today, we start, truly start to care of ourselves and those who love us truly, mutually, unconditionally as intense as tonight’s mist. This deep autumn night. This cold misty and beautiful night.

Looking from the Runway

“Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.”
Walt Whitman, To Think of Time

With air-conditioning on though the temperature that night was not high, yet, I slept, feeling that would be the best way to remember a passing season. It’s about going to autumn though the leaves of Gingko trees on the sidewalks were not turning. The little city wherein I live was not particularly good at being looked. Beautifulness might not be the sort of the words to describe these kinds of small cities. Expectedly, the season was changing.

“Summer or winter, they are seasons we have to live with, like it or not.” My grandmother replied me when I murmured that I hope summer could remain forever so I wouldn’t have to wear much clothes.

In the living room, with my grandmother folding clothes and my mother wandering idly, I took my camera and suggested to take some photos for us. A DLSR camera always requires someone to help control the shutter lest the photo taken be unwatchable so that we were unable to be pictured together for a long time and nowadays there wasn’t much freelance photographers to be find in such a small city.

“Smile, grandmother, and remain relaxed so your naturalness will reveal; say cheese.”

Several rounds later, my grandmother still smiles with eyes wide open, concentrated, a characteristic technique she learned during her younger years when being photographed was still a much celebrated and important activity. She takes this activity seriously.

Trembling and heart-rendered, I give photos to her for review.

“Old. Aged.” She murmured reluctantly. “Delete those.” Almost protesting.

So saddened was I for witnessing the passing of the time but unable to do anything to solace her still hopeful eye sight that I was standing idly with no idea what I should do later.

Going is the time.

So unspeakable are our lives. To live is to remember the unrememberable because that was something we could barely be able to live without.

Before I left my teaching job that I worked for about a year and a half for my postgraduate studies, some colleagues had been often trying to correct my pronunciation.

“This vowel you pronounced should be pronounced this way.” Miss D had said during a teacher’s training session.

“Oh, really? I didn’t hear him pronouncing this wrong.” The school master had commented.

I was standing in the classroom where bright lighting shone on my body. That was days before I started to teach my first class. No one said how good my spoke English is as if this is something unworthy of mentioning while a manager had flattered an other colleague for her good speaking skill.

“Correcting you is for the good of your future students.” A colleague had said. I said nothing in reply.

Helping from those strangers is something too much to bear. Their almost dispiriting desire to be seen as superior is too much for another stranger to behold.

Why do they think I need their help?

It’s been about two years that I didn’t live in Wuhan so I only have my memories to rely on.

It’s also a special time. And the reason I applied the graduate school in Wuhan is of the short distance between the city and my grandmother’s home.

The backpack is heavy-weighted but somehow its weight made me feel consoling. There seemed to be a lot of people going outside as usual at the railway station of Qianjiang. I did not sense out the difference of the passenger traffic between now and then. When the time came, people were hurry to line up, getting their tickets checked. only the prevalent mask-wearing had made the difference obvious. Travelers alike were keeping distance from others. I remembered in January when I saw the news of the outbreak, I felt anxious and called doctors to consult because some colleagues of mine had come back from Wuhan. And when I expressed my concern for going to the emergency hall of the hospital, the doctor replied calmly: “Don’t worry, just wear a mask.”

Doors of some shops inside the Hankou railway station’s underground floor were closed with shelves inside emptied while I waited for school bus. People sitting on the chairs were looking at their phone screens with masks donned.

Looking at Yangtze from the bus window, I saw cables of the bridge over Yangtze move fast. Over the misty river, the traffic was still busy. The city seemed alive and it was a rainy day.

I used to go to the bank of Yangtze and feel the liveliness of the city life and there always seemed to be tourists on the streets taking selfies. But things seemed different recently. Even I was in the bus there was an air of coldness that could be felt outside. Did Wuhan change or did I? Enthusiasm inside me seemed to be disappearing though I thought that could be a normal process of growing up. When I was little, I felt curious about everything unseen before and seldom bored about the most trivial things such as sightseeing the wild flowers and plants.

There was a gulf between the past and the present.

There are trees in the campus, very old and large trees, clustered together, making whoever walk there feel like being in a forest.

Years ago before my graduation when my grandparents had come to have a visit at the campus, three of us were walking together on a trail in the hill near my then university. “The air was fresh and I feel my skin had become better because of that.” I said to them.

My grandparents had only smiled back and continued walking. “It is beautiful.” They said.

Several days after my graduate school enrollment, at a interpretation class, I made a speech regarding educational equality and humanity after two world wars because of the professor’s encouragement of self expression in a new semester. After the class in an evening, a classmate approached me saying :“Classmate Lou(my surname in pinyin), how excellent English you spoke, have you been studying abroad ever?” “No. I just attended several online courses from Open Yale and other universities and you can try to have those materials obtained too.” I replied.

After hearing my speech regarding the pandemic recently in English when a teacher asked us to do some speech with whatever the theme we like, a dorm mate asked me whether I had contested in some English speaking competitions.

“No.” said I.

“You speak so well and so logic.” He said.

There was a sense of coldness in my dorm and I knew maybe I shouldn’t have exposed my English speaking in front of them.

While I was sitting before the class started today, a female classmate said loudly and ruthlessly: could you sit away from me? For teacher will surely focus on us.”

I was silent for a while. “what should I reply?” thought I.

“I won’t be very active to attract teacher’s attention.” I remembered saying.

“No, you have better sat far away from me otherwise I will change my seat.”

I said nothing. And other classmates was slightly beaming watching me.

I didn’t move.

Why should I move? For students are coming to school to learn things. Did she see me as a threat? So unprecedented were such coldness and hostility cast against me that I haven’t realized that I started to morally sanction my own wish to learn. Is such ostracizing attitude I felt justified? Why should I move instead of her?

Should I bend my dream for their approval?

 I had been name-called during my elementary years for I play games with girls.

There were so many things strange from my perspective, why should I be seen as normal in their eyes? For they had never cared about me?

While I walked on the runway over a street, I see mid-aged men carrying bags and luggage walk ahead, with blue face coverings donned. Their skin color was not bright. They must not know the need of sun protection. They wear simple-colored clothes. Seldom had I seen them smile. I don’t know what they were thinking.

While it is sunny today, the street I saw is still not recovered from its normal traffic.

Will it recover?

Another Moon

by Tome Loulin

Above me spreads the hot, blue mid-day sky,
Far down the hillside lies the sleeping lake
Lazily reflecting back the sun,
And scarcely ruffled by the little breeze
Which wanders idly through the nodding ferns.
The blue crest of the distant mountain, tops
The green crest of the hill on which I sit;
And it is summer, glorious, deep-toned summer,
The very crown of nature’s changing year
When all her surging life is at its full.
To me alone it is a time of pause,
A void and silent space between two worlds,
When inspiration lags, and feeling sleeps,
Gathering strength for efforts yet to come.
-Summer, Amy Lowell

On the last day of my job that I did for about a year and a half at a language school, I speeded up my pace to clean up my remaining belongings in the office. The photos of my students sticked on the wall of the classroom were stripped off and thrown into a dust bin by a female coworker who will later use the room. When I mentioned the photo and suggested to take the photos home, her mouth curled surprisingly, offered to pick up those photos thrown by her from the dust bin and said that she thought I would no longer need those photos because the students had graduated. ‘Aren’t they already graduated?’ She asked.

Though I worked for the company for about more than a year, I have either social nor medical insurance. So when I was admitted to the graduate school I applied, I decided to quit but have to work in the company for three more months because of the contract I signed.

Being required by the administrator of the school to stay after work because there was a ceremony to be held for the leaving of a colleague from Beijing, I glanced at the room where coworkers were gathered. Seeing them eating pre-sliced fruits, I decided to leave. A female recipient observed my intention to leave and walked into the room, imitating the way I walk with exaggerated gestures making other coworkers burst into laughters and said to other colleagues: ‘ Mr. Tommy was walking this way and said he will go anyway.’ She walked zigzag with the head raised.

At that summer early evening, the sun was late to set, giving more light than other days of other seasons. On the way home after leaving that office, I walked the way I usually walk and watched cars passing me by. I noticed my body being trembling uncontrollably. And for the first time in my life, I wanted to simply stop walking. I was thinking of me because at that time it is apparent that there in this world, only me, I myself could truly ‘think’ of me. I think of me not because of what I looked like, not because of what kind of clothes I wear, not because of which gender I am, not because of how much money I have, not because of what kind of the way I walk. Not because of anything in the world other than me.

They say
Don’t weep boy
Because you are
A boy.

They say
Be a lover instead of a beloved
Because being a boy biologically means
To love others instead of expecting to be loved.

They say
A boy should be like this
A boy should be like that

They say
They say

But darling
Who are they?

Who
Are they?

I am not like any boy nor any man

I am like a person. Another person. A person.

Quitting, for me, somehow and sometime, is like a rebirth. Just like paying the last homage and saying goodbye to the then will-soon-disappear three gorges scene in early 2000s. On the eve before the Three Gorges Dam was setting to be built, my father and mother had brought me to take a visit to the gorges. The advertisement said: to see the three gorges for the last time. It surely and always was the last time for people to see the three gorges of the Lang River before the dam to be built.

There are also people from other countries coming to have a last look. While on the board of the boat in the center of the water, the tour guide was telling folklore and history stories of the gorges to visitors as usual. I forgotten most of the detail but remembered a story of Wang Zhao-jun. Miss Wang, a resident of the gorges area, and sent by the emperor of Yuan of the Western Han dynasty to marry Chanyu Huhanye of the Xiongnu Empire in order to retain a peaceful relationship between the two, was memorized by local residents as a godlike figure protecting the safety of the people commuting through the gorges part of the Long River. And according to local tales, there was a statue of Wang Zhao-jun on a mountain top of the Xiling gorge safe-guarding the people traveling through the gorges.

Then people on the touring boat changed the topic, saying that when the dam is built, these cultural and natural heritages echoing the past of our people as a whole will forever be submerged. Also gone was our memory of the lives in the gorges. Looking at the pebbles under the water, I heard echoes of monkeys that were jumping on and changing different trees. Li Bai, a poet, while passing through the gorges, had written a poem: The sounds of monkeys on the either bank of the valley seldom cease. And when learning this poem in school courses, I always thought of the sounds I heard during my travel with my parents in the gorges before the dam was built. And it may be then that the echoes of monkeys in there had been stayed in my mind forever.

Maybe overwhelmed by the intense parting feelings, some tourists started to talk about the mythicised death of the poet, Li Bai: on a boat at a midnight at the center of water, drunken as usual, Li Bai, after seeing the soft reflection of the moon on the water and confusing the moon on the water with the real moon in the sky, determinedly jumped off the boat into the water in order to pursue the moon on the water. It’s a romantic re-imagination of the very poet’s death and reflected the narrator’s own romanticisation of the very story. Surely enough, every ethnic group has its own myths and romances reflecting its past and ethos. That story is even saddening and beautiful. Are we forgoing our history or are we becoming negligent in our very imagination of our past as a whole? Those heritages submerged, boat trackers in the gorges area, and the people commuting to and fro the gorges are becoming another reflection of the moon on the water of the gorges but now who is fascinated to that moon? That clean and soft moonlight.

Gone with the moonlight was the past; left unforgotten was the hope. Their hope for reconciliation and reconstruction.

And at this later summer night, I have seen a full moon in the clean sky. How soft is the light. How fine, tranquil and free.

An Essay I Wrote

阅读中文版

by Tome Loulin

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.

Wandering through the Alleys

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.

In a street in Qianjiang, by Tome Loulin

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.

夏日的夜

以前没有空调的时候,夏夜里,总是吹一整夜的风扇,时间久了,很容易感冒。也因此羡慕表弟家有空调—那还是两千年刚刚过的时候。

图、文:楼林

以前没有空调的时候,夏夜里,总是吹一整夜的风扇,时间久了,很容易感冒。也因此羡慕表弟家有空调—那还是两千年刚刚过的时候。

上大学后,学校的宿舍没有空调,武汉的夏夜闷热异常,简直无法入眠,因此有人去网吧开包间睡觉—因为有空调,也不怕不卫生,有传染疾病的风险。有一天实在是静谧的晚夜,窗外是南风,有室友二人结伴到顶楼的露台去睡觉—因为凉快,他们就睡在地上。青年好像就这么能够折腾,心里反而很觉得幸福,因为是自己做主,不怕有家长说不能睡在地上,会感冒。头一次有主人翁的意识。

后来有一个室友很快就从露台上退了下来。“蚊子太多了。”他说。

后来学校安装了空调。但一百元的电费,只开了两晚的空调,就用完了,要去充电费。“这怎么在收费,这么快。”舍友惊讶道。不节能的空调确实很耗电。因此再热也只能省着点开。

在长江北,夏日蒸发旺盛,空气黏稠又闷热,不禁同奶奶说:“这里的夏天太闷热了。” “夏天就是穿衣服方便。”

过冬天的时候,盼着夏天早些来。夏天来的时候,我在静夜里,想起过去来。

Somewhere

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.

“Somewhere we call home.”

Where We Live Now

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.

“Outgoing?”

“Oui.”I smiled.

“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?”

A Summer That Seemed like A Rebirth

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.

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.

We Take Photographs in Order to Remember

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.