My grandmother combed and braided my hair the last time; she had combed and braided my hair everyday before I went to school. Both my grandmother and I cried as we walked to the long distance bus station. I held my grandmother’s wrist, not letting my father take me away. I cried for hours on the bus until I fell asleep.
We had to stay in a motel overnight. I was used to sleeping on my grandmother’s bed at night but that night I slept beside my father. My father’s beard stubble and loud snoring mixed into my nightmare. I dreamed that there was a big buffalo running at me. I was running away but the buffalo was getting closer. Finally, I cried out. My father held me and comforted me by saying, “There is nothing there. Dad is here. Nothing could hurt you.” He held me with his face touching mine, his beard pinching my face, so I pushed him away.
The next afternoon, we reached my mom’s city “Nanchong.” I was glad to meet my brother and sister. My sister was about two years old and my brother was six. I unpacked my things after dinner and showed my sister and brother what I had. Immediately, my sister wanted my new pretty lotion bottle that I just received from my father. I said, “No, this is my gift from father.” Then she was screaming and crying. My mother said, “Ying, give it to her; she won’t play long before she falls asleep.” Unhappily, I gave the bottle to her. “Crash,” I heard the sound of breaking glass and there was my bottle smashed on the floor. I was shocked for a minute and then I cried. Later, I learned that when she wanted something, she wanted it immediately otherwise she would throw whatever it was on the floor once she got it. I don’t remember how many milk bottles she broke. At that time, we only had glass bottles and it was difficult to buy replacements because of shortages of everything.
My long hair became the next problem for my mother. When I stayed with my grandmother, she braided my hair every morning before I went to school. Now, my mom didn’t have time to braid my hair, so she decided to cut my hair. It was difficult for me in the new school already because I had an accent from my grandmother’s city. Now my hair was so short that I looked like a boy. My classmates laughed at me and I was hurt and I put all the blame on my mother. I thought that it was all her fault and I wanted to go back to my grandmother.
The oil institute was like an almost self-sufficient world in itself. There was a wall enclosing everything with a big gate and a gatekeeper. There were office buildings, a dining hall, school, clinic, basketball court, etc. We really did not need to go out at all. The institute provided housing for everyone. Everyone knew each other so well that they knew what was going on in each other’s lives. In the morning, my mom sent my brother and sister to the babysitter who had grown-up kids. I walked to school by myself. We had four classes in the morning and then a lunch break for two to three hours depending upon whether it was winter or summer. I went home to get lunch from the dining hall and have lunch with my mom. Then my mom would take a short nap while I did my homework. Afterwards, I went back to school and my mother went back to work. We had two more classes in the afternoon. When school was over, we came home to do one or two hours of homework. After my homework, my chores were to dust all of the furniture and to sweep the floor. Then I played for awhile with other kids although sometimes I forgot to do my chores before my play. Between 6–6:30 PM, I, like most other friends, brought our bowls to the dining hall to get dinner for the family.
On summer weekends, sometimes we went to watch movies at the basketball court at my mom’s institute. I enjoyed watching movies there. I prayed the weather would be good. Often the summer rains cut our movies short. One night was different. It was 1969. We were watching a movie when it suddenly stopped. A voice on the speaker said that our first H-bomb was successfully tested and that China would not be afraid of the United States any more. Everyone was happy and cheered and the movie became a midnight parade all the way downtown. Somehow, at that time, we always thought that the United States was going to invade China. Our teacher always told us that China was like a piece of fat bacon that every one else outside of China wanted. Everywhere in the country, tunnels were being constructed. We regularly practiced emergency drills in our classroom. Our tunnel was built at a tomb site. Boys in the class always found some bone fragments or rotten pieces of wood to scare girls in the class.
I was one of the top students in class. There I met my life long girlfriend Yang (杨), it should have been Liu (刘) Wei-lin; she followed her mother’s surname. Her brother followed her father’s surname Liu. She was in my class. She studied hard and was good but if she received bad grades on a test or examination, her mother would beat her. She had bruises that she only showed me. That was common at that time. I heard even worse stories.
Since my mom had to take care of three of us and had a full-time job too, suddenly I became an adult. My mom expected me to do too much while my grandmother never expected me do anything. I got blamed for whatever my brother or sister did. My mom always said, “You are the oldest. You are supposed to...” My mom didn’t beat us. She did send us outside the house a few times, never alone, always with my brother. One time, my brother or we broke something irreplaceable. My mom was very angry and said that she had enough of us and she would just die from our upsetting her. My brother and I sat in front of our doorstep in the dark—frightened and chilly from the evening wind. I hoped my mom would open the door soon. One time, our next door neighbor yelled at my mom and told her to let us in the house.
I used to sleep with my grandma in her full bed. Now, I had a single bed for myself, and my youngest sister got to sleep with my mom. We didn’t have a bar on the bed to stop us from falling. So every now and then, “boom,” I fell from my bed. I did learn from that because when I was in college later, I was on the top of a bunk bed and there was no bar to stop us from falling either. I guess that was something we had to learn.
My mom would not let me wear pretty clothes or hairpins. I loved her scarlet red velvet coats that she no longer wore. They were too small for her but she didn’t give them to me. My father got some pretty hairpins when he was on a business trip in the nation’s capital. My mom locked them up with the candy. I wanted them so much that I dreamed I wore them in my dreams. I even made one myself with a red plastic tube and a metal wire inside. It looked real from far away and my girlfriends were surprised. I was shocked though when I was older that my sister was allowed to wear them. I did not think the hairpins were pretty at all and wondered why I had liked them or wanted them so much. I guess I had grown out of them.
List of Chinese Dialects