Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sophomore, My Classmates Drowned

The second fall semester started. I went back to college with a lot of supplies. My mom made me new clothes and a lot of goodies. She gave me some money and kept asking me whether it was enough. Several times, I assured her that it was. It was the first time in my life that I actually started to miss her.
     I did all the re-entry procedures for college. We had a feast in our dorm room because everyone brought local goodies from their homes. After we were full, we started to show each other new clothes from home. I took mine out too since my mom made them—two shirts and a new sweater. I knew my mom was not good at making clothes, but I watched her trying very hard to make them at night after work.  She took it apart, re-did it; she would even talk to herself.  She really tried her best.  My sister and my brother refused to wear her clothes.  For me, just her effort to make them for me was a great comfort to me.  I did not care how perfect they were; I used to wear clothes that were too short and with holes, so at least there were no holes.
     The older sister Liu (刘) in our dorm laughed at me. “Your mom made those for you? I don’t believe that you could put those on. Look at them.” She pointed out all the imperfections of my mom’s clothes. I told her that my mother never learned how to make anything.  

     She insisted to take apart the sweater and re-knit it herself and she did it in a week in her spare time. And she even made me a pair of pants on our teacher’s sewing machine. I had to say these were much better this time. My roommates liked me to try on their new clothes so they could see how they looked on me. They always made comments like, “Oh, Ying you look gorgeous in those clothes. They look like they were made just for you.” For me, my mother’s clothes were good enough for me and I never told her that my classmates laughed at her work. Later on, I learned knitting from sister Liu.  Liu was from the farm family; she was over 30 when she came to college.  There was another older sister in our class; her name was Ho (何), and was from Neijiang where my mother’s family first arrived back in 1724. 
     The two older sisters were very different.  Sister Liu was very laid back, did not care about politics at all, and more of a motherly type.  Ho was a party member and on class duty, worked in a factory as a manager before she came to college, so she could be bossy sometimes. Once she asked me do something for her.  I did not want to, so I told her “no” in front of all our roommates. Other girls in our room thought I was stubborn since it was such a little thing.  I could do it for her just by lifting one of my fingers.  I told them I did not feel like doing it for her at that moment.  She just had to get used to it.  We had our moments every now and then with all 7 girls sharing one room.  Most of the time, we enjoying each other’s company.  We were like sisters.  We were good friends for life.

     Around nine o’clock that night, one boy from our class came to our dorm room and told us one of his roommates Di-ping was missing and that they were still looking for him downstream by flashlight. First we did not believe him because he was a joker in class. One of the girls had seen Di-ping in the afternoon when he just arrived. He had taken an 18-hour train ride to Chengdu, then a 4-hour bus ride to the college. He was one of the best students who would never disobey the rule “No swimming in the river.”  Plus, it was not even hot anymore and the school swimming pool had closed.
     A year before, a female student from another department had excellent grades in almost every subject except she didn’t know how to swim and wanted to learn. So she went with a few friends to a very small creek near the college. There she drowned with only few inches of water above her. The school made it very clear from then on “No swimming in the river.”
     Di-ping grew up near the Yangtze River Yangtze River, one of the two largest rivers in China and was a good swimmer. He and two other students had decided to go swimming in the Feng (青衣江) River. They all knew the river was very deep and that the water was very cold because it came from the snow-covered mountains in the west. He was very tired from traveling. He got caught in the current and drowned by the bridge. Local people said that anyone who went down by that bridge would not even surface for miles.
     The next morning, our classmates divided into groups and walked along the riverbank for several miles hoping to find him alive somewhere on the shore but we couldn’t find him. We tried the next day and no one could find his body. A few days later, about 15 kilometers down the river; a fisherman found his body while fishing.
     It was a tragedy for our class, especially for the two other boys who had gone along with him. They woke up at night and called out his name. It was even more tragic for the boy’s family since they were hoping for the best from him; his older brother was handicapped. His mother said that he had told them about the girl who drowned the previous year so no one could even imagine that he would be the one who would drown.
     His mother did have a nightmare the night before she received the telegram from our college. She dreamed that her family cow (usually considered very important to a farm family) was trying to jump off the cliff and she tried so hard to pull it back. The cow did jump off the cliff and she couldn’t see anything but darkness. She told her husband about the dream the next morning and prayed that nothing would happen to them but around noon they received the bad news.
     Other students who shared the same dorm room with him said somehow, or for some reason at the time of his death, his shirt on a chair accidentally caught fire by a cigarette butt though this never happened before or after. And no one even knew that he was in trouble. His father said that he needed his clothes because his body was unclad when the fisherman found him.
     When we went to say our final goodbye to him before the cremation, some of our classmates said that they saw some bleeding from his body when his parents were there crying out loud. They believed it was his way of saying sorry to his parents. Our college paid all the expenses and gave his family 500 Yuan as a small compensation for their loss, about one year’s salary if their son got a job after graduation. His parents were grateful for the school’s offer and thanked the school again after they returned home. That was contrary to the girl’s family whose daughter had drowned the year before. Her parents complained that the school put too much pressure on their daughter to be perfect. If she didn’t feel pressured into swimming, she would still be alive.