Sunday, February 10, 2013

Moving to My Father’s Place - Chengdu

In the late 1970’s, we moved to Chengdu to join my father. Again, I got lost on the way. We had to stay in Xunin (遂宁) overnight on the way to Chengdu by bus. My mom took my sister, brother, and me to check into a motel. Then we walked around the small town to find a place to eat. We made a circle back and ate in a restaurant just across the street from the motel where we stayed.
     After our meal, my sister needed to be changed and my mom asked me to go back to our motel room to get something. I thought that I knew the way back but I got lost. I just could not find the motel. I walked and walked; one block then another. I noticed the sky was getting dark. I was nervous. What was I going to do if I couldn’t find the way back? Tomorrow, the bus would go without me. I was scared so I started to ask around. The first person I asked was an old man because he seemed to be nice. I said, “could you tell me where the bus station is?” He pretended not to hear me. I asked again. He said, “Who are you talking to? I have a name; you know what you are supposed to call me, young lady.” I was upset and walked away.
     I learned my lesson. When I approached another person, I did change and asked, “Old grandfather, could you please tell me where is the bus station?”; when we say “old” (Lao), it is a sign of respect. Using the name “Grandfather” showed that I treated him with respect just like my own grandfather. This person nicely gave me directions. At the same time, my mom had already sent people out to look for me. I saw my best girlfriend Wei-lin’s father Liu (刘) who had walked around looking for me. He took me back to the motel. My mom, of course, blamed me since the motel was just across the street and I had told her that I knew the way back.
     Our family was temporarily placed in a complex courtyard that was going to be demolished to make room for the company’s hotel. People were gradually moving out. Since we arrived between school semesters, my brother and I had to wait for the next new semester to begin. My grandmother came to help us out. Since there was no institutional dining hall nearby, my grandmother cooked for us.
     For a few months, it was fun without school in the big courtyard. Quickly, my brother and I learned that when people move out, there were lots of valuable things left behind. So we started to collect anything that we could redeem for recycling in a store such as toothpaste tins, copper, and newspapers. We found a few pennies here and there and gave every penny to my mom. We enjoyed taking the junk to the store to sell. I felt proud that we could also contribute something to our family.
     In the short few months that we were there, we did get into some trouble. We would play with a few other kids outside of our courtyard. Everything was fine until one of the boys started to say bad words to me. Everybody else watched and laughed. I said, “You stop it or I will hit your dirty mouth.” He did not even pay attention to what I had said. He continued so I hit him on the face. Suddenly, his nose started to bleed and he cried and ran away. Everyone left. I went home as if nothing happened. Later the boy’s parents came to our doorstep with the boy and his bloody face. I was hiding inside. My father asked me to come out and apologize to the boy and his parents. They did not even ask anything. It seemed to be my entire fault. I tried to explain but my father gave me a spanking on my bottom to stop me. Later my grandmother told my father that he was too hard on me because I wet my pants when he spanked me.
     One afternoon, my brother and I played with a new chest that our parents just bought. We decided to climb into the chest to try to hide inside, but somehow we locked ourselves in and couldn’t get out. A few minutes of struggling to open the chest had no effect. We felt the air getting thinner and the inside felt hotter and hotter. We yelled out, “Grandma, help, help.” and we felt it was difficult to breathe. Finally, my grandma came and opened the chest for us. She was so upset and yelled at us, “you, short-lived ghosts, short-lived ghosts.”
     We did have some fun with the sand piles and bricks piled for later construction work. We played in the sand and made all kinds of things. The most enjoyable part was digging a big hole and covering it with a few twigs, leaves, and then sand making it invisible to other kids. Then we started a game of treasure hunt. It was so much fun just watching ourselves fall into the traps that we ourselves had built. We used the bricks to build our own private playhouse. We covered the top with newspapers. We used twigs as chopsticks, bottles, and covers, and stones as kitchenware. It was my dream house with my wild imagination. I dreamed that I could bring in the old blind man walking around our neighbourhood. He carried a wood stick on one hand, poking the ground, while the other hand carried bamboo basket full of little covers for the bee-nest stove. Rain or shine, summer or winter, he shouted with his dry and weak voice and wished people would come to buy those covers he made. I bought so many covers with the money that I earned from recycling old things. I wished that I could make him see or I could take care of him. Sometimes I even followed him to make sure he didn’t fall with his walking stick. But he did fine.
     Not long after, we got a mentally disturbed neighbor. He was temporarily there too. Even though he had two full time men there to watch him, one day a disaster struck. He came to our front door while my grandmother was cooking. It was summer and our front door was open. My brother, sister, and I were so scared and hid in the bedroom. We held our breath. There was no way out because our windows had bars (against theft). We prayed that he wouldn’t come in. I heard my grandmother offer him food to eat. Suddenly, we heard a crash. My grandmother called for help as the mad man stormed out. My grandmother lay on the floor with a broken hip. She was in pain for several weeks. Our doctor said that she had to sleep on a hard surface to let her hip set straight again with a cast and that made her feel even more miserable. She was complaining day and night because of the pain. I did not think we had any pain relief medicine at the time. That was the only time my grandmother complained about pain in my memory. She did not have any surgery. My mom blamed us for the sake of blame, and then I blamed myself too. In my mind, I replayed everything and I really did not know what to do but to go to confront the disturbed man myself so my grandma would not get hurt. I blamed myself, “chicken.” She did recovery after and was able to walk again, and she went back to her hometown.
     One steamy summer day kids in our yard decided to go swimming after our parents went back to work. I asked my mom about it and she said, “no” because no adults were with us. So shortly after she left for work, we started our walk to the swimming pool. It was so exciting. We went to the pool to which we were qualified to enter (I was allowed in 1-meter deep water) with our ID. Time just flew until we noticed the sky above us getting dark. “Oh, it is time to go home. Hurry. Hurry.” We had to walk 40 minutes to get home. It was getting dark. We had to go all the way downstream, across the bridge, and back toward home. I said, “let’s try to cross the river here to save time. The river doesn’t seem deep.” We could even see the bottom of the river. So we ran down to the riverbank and started to walk across. But the water got deeper and deeper. We held each other’s hands. The water seemed to be running faster and faster and it started to get difficult just to stand still. “No, there is no way we could cross this river. Let’s go back up and cross the bridge,” I said. I didn’t know what time it was when we got home but it was dark and late. Everyone was waiting for us in front of the door. We knew that we were going to get into big trouble immediately. I never saw my mother that upset in my whole life. She beat my brother and me with a bamboo stick so hard and we tried to run away from her but she kept chasing us. She was shouting and crying. I don’t remember my father there; he must have been out for business. After that, I seemed to have lost interest in swimming. I went to our physical education exercise class but I never went back to swim by myself or with friends.