Sunday, February 10, 2013

Living With My Grandparents

I was with my mom until I was one year old. My mom had to work and travel. My grandmother came to Chengdu to get me, and then I stayed with her in a little salt city Gongjing (贡井) where my grandparents lived. Gongjing means the “salt well offer to the Emperor.” It was best known for its best quality salt.
     They had an old Chinese courtyard house where there was a huge entry door with two very high wooden doors closed at night. There was also a high wooden panel across the doorstep to prevent leaves or dust from blowing in. I had to climb over the wooden panel since my legs were too short. We had two neighboring families, the Li (李) family and the Yang (杨) family. A few steps down from the gate, on the left side, there was a peach tree that my youngest uncle planted when he was young. The peach blossoms were so high that I could not reach them. There was a little creek running down the hill on the left, to right in front of our house, to a pond not far from our house. There was a Buddhist temple on the hillside, I used to be afraid of the huge Buddhist statue and it was very dark inside. Next to the temple, there was a tailor shop where my grandma used to take me to get my dress done. The tailor was a skinny old man with old glasses almost falling down from his face, he looked at me not through the glasses, but over his glasses. He was always telling me how pretty I looked in all the dresses he made for me. The road to downtown was on the right. On the other side of the road were fields and fields of crops. I had a great time with my grandparents for about six years by myself.
      My grandfather Guan (官) was bedridden with lots of pillows behind him, with an over three-foot long pipe smoking. He had many kinds of pipes, long and short.  I used to play with his
copper hookah water smoking pipe because when he smoked, it made blub-blub sounds.  This article is the best description of my memory.
Copper hookah water smoking pipe
     He was paralyzed since he was thirty-years old because of arthritis. I was afraid of my grandpa Guan and his black wooden coffin on the porch because they were both on the dark side of the house. I avoided them both as much as possible. My grandmother had tiny feet that were wrapped to stop growing when she was two years old. Part of her toes and foot bones were practically bent and broken. So the heel grew large to try to take the support. It looked like today’s pointed high-heeled woman’s fashion shoes. Ballet also reminded me about the bounded feet, worst of it they had to stand on their toes dancing. I hope the designer did not get the idea here. The corns and calluses were so thick which made it painful when she walked. She walked slowly.
      Every morning, my grandmother took me to the farmer’s market. My grandfather always told me to hold my grandmother’s hand, to be good, and so on. My grandmother would always buy me a little snack or other treat. Sometimes, my grandmother took me to my relatives’ house on the way to shopping. I always admired that they had so many wonderful things in the house, so many kinds of candy and cookies in an octagonal black lacquer box decorated with a gold phoenix. It was a very nice treat for me each time my grandmother and I visited since I didn’t have any toys and I could not have candy or cookies every day. They always told me to have as many as I wanted. I always took a long look at the different kinds of candy in each partition, then picked one. I really wanted more, but my grandmother told me to only pick one. My grandmother said this showed that we had pride.
     Once, I got lost although I do not remember how. I remembered being carried on the back of a police officer. On the way home, we saw a big crowd of people. The policeman stopped to see what was going on. The people were trying to kill a cow. That was the most horrifying moment in my life. I do not remember how we got home. I could not ever recall the image of a cow being killed. I just could not forget a cow was killed, maybe because I am a “cow” in the Chinese zodiac calendar. Later when I was older, I understood that the police officer had to carry me all over the town to see who knew me since there was no other way. Fortunately, it was a small town. Everyone knew our family.
     
I was sick almost all the time; my youngest aunt who was still single or even my neighbor would carry me on their shoulders, back and forth to the local clinic. I don’t remember how many penicillin injections I had. Every time since I never cried, my doctor always gave me the little empty medicine bottle to take home as a prize and called me “little hero” since my name happens to be a female warrior in a classical movie.
    
I spent a lot of time resting in bed. My grandparent’s bed was a traditional black lacquer-finished canopy bed. There was a white mosquito net around it. If I closed the front side, it instantly became my clubhouse. The other three sides were black and gold colored, carved wooden panels. The traditional Chinese pillow was a like a long log almost as long as me. On each end of the pillow were silk patches of embroidered flowers and a pair of mandarin ducks. I used to pretend the pillow was my patient and I was the doctor giving the shots. When I lie in bed in the dark and could not go to sleep, my favorite thing to do was to stare in the dark until a small multicolored ball of light showed above me at the far end of the bed. I watched it approach. It was the best thing you could ever see, and each time I tried to catch it, it popped and was gone. So I learned to be patient and just watched the ball showing up, come toward me and then disappear over and over again.
 My grandparents'  lacquer-finished canopy beds were black and gold color
     The neighborhood kids always admired how many bottles I had. I could play on the hills. I could put water, sand, or flowers in the bottles and make-believe. Flowers do not like me. They made my nose turn red and itch but I never knew why. My grandmother told me not to pick them, but I never listened. I loved to pick flowers by the shore of the nearby pond. One day I fell into the water and almost drowned. Our neighbor saved me.
     It was the same pond in which my grandmother almost ended her life a number of years ago. My grandmother could not accept the fact that all her five kids had grown up and gone to college or to work far away. My oldest uncle and his family were living in Zigong (自貢). Even her youngest son was about to leave for Russia to continue his studies. When her last baby boy died at three months old from pneumonia, she let her four-year-old son, my youngest uncle drank her milk instead, and she nursed him until he went to school. He got perfect scores when he took the National College Entry exam. Now this boy was about to leave her as well, leaving her behind with her husband who could not get out of bed. She did not think life was worth living anymore.
     My youngest uncle came back from Russia with a lot of little pretty things for me; I used to play with them, quite a few necklaces. He wanted me to dress up and put those necklaces on so he could take pictures of me, but I refused to put them on my neck and refused to take pictures. My uncle used to trick me, so I would let him put necklaces on my neck, but it did not take long for me to realize that he wanted to take my picture. So I would pull very hard and break the necklaces; the beads scattered all over the floor. My grandma used to say that I must have had too much jewelry and fame in my previous life, so I do not like them in this life because jewelry and fame did not bring me happiness.
     I do not remember my brother that much. My grandma said my mom took him to see us a few times. Once, he bit my thumb so hard that it was swollen. She said my parents brought him so many toy guns and toy tanks. He dismantled them soon after he got them. My grandmother would say that he must have been tired of fighting from his previous life.

My brother Jie and I when my brother came to visit Zigong.
    I do not remember many interactions with other kids except one day when I was about five years old. The teenage son of Yang (杨) family came home. I was outside of the courtyard near my uncle’s peach tree when he exposed himself in front of me. I did not really understand what he was doing. I ran away back home. He went away a few days after and I never saw him again. I did not know his parents used to be our family helper.