When you blog about love, family and relationships in China for as long as I do, you get to know lots of couples. But while there are love stories, there are also breakups and divorce in China.
Alex is someone I’ve known for years. She shared her love story here back in 2013. But her marriage with a Chinese man unraveled, ending in divorce. Her tale of divorce in China has become an everyday story she tells to the taxi drivers of Qingdao. It’s an act of courage to share stories like this and I’m grateful Alex wrote this piece.
I reply, “I’m nearly there! Wait one moment, what color is your car?” Moments later, I say to him, “Hi! This is the car I ordered, correct?”
Since 2010 I’ve realized that getting from point A to point B in China has always been a fairly simple task. When the cost of a car sets you back a couple dollars, and they are in high supply, the only time I ever worry about getting around would be during those peak traffic times. And in that case I will rarely leave the house.
Chinese taxi drivers certainly have a reputation for being curious – if anything they should be merited for their ability to test all foreigners in China on their Chinese-speaking abilities. If you can pass the first few questions of the journey, well that merits you have a certain level of experience in China.
When it comes to getting a taxi, it is all about creating a conversation. To communicate is to be human, and to tell a story is to be someone willing to share a piece of your life with an overworked, and often bored, taxi driver. This always seems to be the best opportunity for these conversations., I will never see you again, and you probably won’t see me again, so time for that beautiful exchange.
Qingdao is a city I have called home since my early twenties — a city of 8 million, with sea, mountains and locals that are beyond welcoming. To reiterate a story that I often share with those stranger taxi drivers reveals another side of those international love stories. Because not all love stories, not all magical moments are real life. And not everything we see is as it is.
I met my now ex-husband in 2010, and funnily enough a Chinese fortune-teller actually reminded me about this over a business lunch just yesterday! He was spot on that I had indeed met a love. The story of how I met my ex-husband has nearly been erased from my mind, but I cherish and hold on to the beginning where it seemed to be about love — true love, love that crosses thousands of miles — and that is what brought on my destiny.
Today I have to be brutally honest when I tell those taxi drivers that within the beautiful city of Qingdao, out of all those friendly, smiling, helpful Shandong faces there are in fact a few bad eggs.
Adultery, divorce, rumors, gossip, cheating, lying and manipulation. This side of marriage in China is more prevalent than ever – but would you ever know the truth? Of course not. It is buried so deep in “keeping face” and maintaining a reputation that what goes on after the wedding ceremony is rarely discussed. My own experience as a 22-year-old university graduate, madly in love and naïve as hell, is a simple representation.
What I have seen in only the past three months goes to show that this exists in many, many relationships. The Chinese version of “undiscussed” open relationships, staying together for the money, the kids, the face.
I wouldn’t and couldn’t endure it.
It began by discovering images on iCloud – you sneaky bastard! From that point on I became a professional private investigator. Once that “小三” (xiaosan) mistress was discovered I was basically looking to find out everything. Looking back now it was really pointless. This mistress culture is a part of many marriages in China. Perhaps this is the reason why two people can stay together for so long. Perhaps long-term monogamy is unrealistic.
What I really want to say is not a sad sob story of how I had to escape a manipulative, power-hungry businessman or how I left the company we built, that cute poodle puppy, apartment and the mini cooper car lifestyle. The life we had together from the outside looked ideal. We were set to have some great looking kids, and be able to exchange country residencies. We were on our way to building a successful company, and overall I loved this man. It was stupid love but it was true. After this entire experience I feel that marriage is about so much more than love or lust. It should be viewed as a partnership, a collaboration, and built from a foundation of reason and logic.
How I went from a married, power-couple team of wedding planners and designer to a single, nomadic dating coach in London – well, that process and series of events still surprises me. So much of what has happened, I look back on it and think, Wow, where did the time go? How did all of this happen?
So, what do these kindhearted, slightly coarse, smile-wrinkle taxi drivers have to do with it? They hear my story of divorce in China every day, because how else can I say the reason why my Chinese is spoken with some local dialect tones? How can I answer what kept me in Qingdao for over five years? I like to be open and share my story as I think so much of the reality is behind closed doors.
You would not believe the number of businessmen who find it completely normal to not inform me until the second date that they have a family and wife, but would still like to pursue me. Even today I attend dinner meetings and drinking spells with men like this, offering up this kind of proposal. After what I went through with my ex-husband, it’s odd to be on the other side of things, so to speak.
And yet, I continue to date Chinese men. I would still marry a Chinese man, but with so much more caution, and with more high-level requests as to what he will provide. I would ask for what I deserve upfront and first. I would want a house in my name, a nice car, and a wedding paid for by him, just like many Chinese women. That is the lesson I learned.
Will I find love once again in China? I couldn’t tell you because I’m not a fortune-teller. But I remain cautiously optimistic about the future. And every day, as I hail another taxi, it gets a little easier to tell the story of my divorce in China and embrace the possibilities for my future.
I’m honored to run this guest post from Josh Summers, who started the phenomenal blog Far West China covering Xinjiang province and just started a new website called Travel China Cheaper. He’s also a dad here in China and today shares some of his tips for raising kids in this country.
Do you have some experiences or other stories you would like to share on the blog? Check out the submit a post page to learn how to have your words featured here.
I remember when I first arrived in China with my 1-year old son. It was an emotional moment as I sat on the hotel bed thinking to myself, “What have I done? Is this really fair to make my son live as an expat?” Away from his loving grandparents. Away from a reliable school system. Away from everything I had known growing up.
It’s been more than 4 years since that evening and I’ve learned a lot as a dad. It’s not that I’m an expert now, but looking back I realize a lot of the things I’ve done well as well as those things that I’ve done poorly.
Hopefully I can share some thoughts that might encourage you as you consider raising your kid in China – or any country for that matter.
Give Your Child an “Exit Word”
In China, this was a big deal for us. Outside of China’s major cities, cute little foreign babies and toddlers are still fawned over like crazy. I can’t even count the number of times that a Chinese lady has taken my son from my arms to hold or show off to their friends.
When my son was a baby, he made his feelings known by crying if he didn’t like this. As a walking, talking toddler, this wasn’t always the case.
My wife and I decided to give our son an “exit word”. What this means is that if people ever wanted to take a picture with him (which happened often on the road) or tried to take him over to play with their son, he could go if he wanted. However, if he didn’t want to for any reason, all he needed to say was “No, thank you” and we would immediately step in and remove him from the situation.
We want our son to be comfortable in the Chinese culture. We also know that he gets special attention as a foreign kid, so giving him this “exit word” has been key to keeping him from growing bitter toward China.
Include Your Child in Major Decisions
My son didn’t make the decision to move to the other side of the world away from his family and friends. The least I can do is respect him enough to include him in other major decisions that affect his life.
Will he go to Chinese school or be home schooled? (We don’t have an international school option where we live.)
Where will we take our vacation?
Is our time in China done? Should we move back to the US?
Mind you, including him in the decision doesn’t mean he gets to make the final decision. I merely want him to know that we’re not dragging him around or asking him to do something without giving it proper consideration.
Be an Example of an Adventurous Attitude
I know a lot of parents who want their kid to be that model expat kid who speaks Mandarin, loves local food and gets along well with both expat and local kids. At the same time, they don’t study, they eat at McDonalds and they only hang out with their expat crowd.
I’m a firm believer that I need to model what I hope to see in my kids. I am the biggest influence in his life!
I want my son to grow up with a sense of an adventure, a desire to learn and an ability to adapt to very different situations. My hope is that he can see me doing that on a daily basis and learn from that.
As parents, we often don’t realize how good we had it in our home country. We had family we could rely on to love on our children, social clubs for interaction (church, athletic teams, etc.) and a familiar education system.
When we leave that environment, we unknowingly shift a lot of that responsibility on ourselves. And often, unfortunately, we come short. At least I do.
I’ve learned that I need to be very intentional about being involved in my son’s life. He doesn’t have a grandpa around who can share that load. He doesn’t have a basketball coach that can teach him to play basketball.
That’s on me. And I need to own that responsibility if I’m going to live as an expat dad.
Be Intentional with your Child’s Education
Building upon the burden of responsibility I just mentioned, I believe it’s important that my wife and I are intentional about our child’s education.
Most of the time the schools in our home country take on the responsibility of planning for the future. It’s assumed that students will at least attempt to go to university within the country and are prepared accordingly.
Unless you can afford to send your child to a fancy international school, this kind of preparation often falls on us as parents when living as China expats. My son is only 5 years old and we’re not only putting away money for his college every month, we’re making sure we understand all the different tests and other requirements that will be expected when he considers high school or college in the US (our home country). Every country has different requirements and within the US, even each state is different!
Conclusion | Raising a Child in China
I am convinced that raising my child in China is giving him advantages that most other kids don’t have – Chinese language immersion, multi-cultural experience, etc. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here!
But these advantages don’t come automatically. I have learned over the past few years that if I want my family to thrive in China, I need to be personally responsible and very intentional about how our family operates.
Our time in China won’t be forever. I want to take advantage of it while we can!
Josh Summers has been living in China since 2006 with his wife and two sons, all of whom have spent more of their lives in China than in their home country of the United States.
An anonymous reader who calls herself “Nasty Woman” sent in this story of what she describes as “the absolutely red-hot but short-lived affair I had with an Asian man while on vacation, the sexiest man I’ve ever known.”
Last month, I visited Asia with a friend for the first time. The plan was to go to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and then Beijing over the course of almost three weeks. Reading all the sweet, romantic love stories on this blog, I feel a little naughty sharing this one, because it’s a story of pure lust and not much else. I hope that’s OK – I figured since Asian men are undersexualized in American culture we could use a story about the absolutely red-hot but short-lived affair I had with an Asian man while on vacation, the sexiest man I’ve ever known. Seriously ladies, buckle up.
I fit the stereotype of the sexually liberated Western woman pretty well. I prefer meaningful, loving relationships but certainly don’t say no to casual sex when the opportunity arises. While in Japan, I downloaded Tinder and did meet up with someone but wasn’t really attracted to him, so that didn’t go anywhere. I was having a great time with my friend so I didn’t care all that much about meeting guys anyway. On our last night in Osaka, though, things changed.
I was getting ready to go out drinking by the river with my friend, and when I came downstairs to the hostel lobby, I saw that she was chatting with a guy staying at the hostel. He was a very handsome solo traveler from Seoul and the friend that I was traveling with was half-Korean/half-Chinese, so they were just casually making conversation. When I found out he could also speak excellent English, I joined in on the conversation and liked him immediately. I invited him out drinking with us, and we had a fun time getting drunk and getting to know each other.
It wasn’t long before he and I started to basically third-wheel my friend. I’ll never forget the moment we were sitting next to each other, across the table from my friend at a bar, and he put his hand on my knee. I had been flirting pretty heavily by then so his touch was electric. I slid his hand further up my thigh and by the time we left, we were groping each other right in between the legs (classy, I know). Because I was drunk I thought all of this had gone unnoticed by my friend but she later told me she saw all of it. Ha ha!
So at this point he and I know it’s going down, it’s just a matter of time. We all get in a cab together back to the hostel and manage to stay civilized in the cab and on the walk back. A few minutes later, we’re all in the hostel bathroom, brushing our teeth, and I hop in the shower. When I get out of the shower, he’s the only one in the bathroom. We just look at each other, and for the first time all night, I feel shy. He’s standing near the door and I start to walk towards the door, maintaining eye contact with him the whole time. When I get near him, he puts his arm on my waist, and in what felt like a millisecond, we were kissing passionately and the clothes were coming right off.
So because this isn’t an erotica blog I won’t get into the details but let me tell you something ladies: even as a sexually free Western woman who has had a handful of partners, I have never felt more like a goddess or more out of my mind with lust and pleasure than I did with this man. He checks off literally every fantasy that you dream about in a sexual partner – giving and sweet but also strong and passionate, adventurous and hungry but also considerate and gentle. It was, without a question, the best sex I’ve ever had. I still shiver thinking about it.
The next day, my friend left for her flight to Beijing, while my flight was booked for the late afternoon. I had originally planned on doing more sightseeing, but instead I spent the whole morning in his arms. Because we had more time and space to ourselves, it was more sensual and slow and loving than the night before. It was almost like we were in love and on our honeymoon. When the time came to head out, he saw me off to the airport and could not have been more of a gentleman. I think I saw an interview where Jocelyn said that Asian men take care of their women – girl, he TOOK CARE of me, in so many ways. Despite knowing him for so little time, saying goodbye to him really did make me sad, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him and wishing our time together wasn’t over.
Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t! We kept in touch while I was in China, and he told me I was welcome to visit him in South Korea anytime. I wasn’t sure if that was ever going to happen, but as it turns out, our China plans were changing. My friend was initially planning to bring me along to meet the Chinese side of her family, but she’d had a change of heart, wanting to go alone since she wasn’t sure if she’d have another chance to see her grandparents. Voila – I had a few extra days in my itinerary, which she suggested I spend in Shanghai. But I had a better idea.
When I think of Seoul, I think of flesh and sweat and sighs of pleasure. The memory of his lips on mine, his hands on my body, still gives me goosebumps. We did do a lot of sightseeing together and he was the sweetest, most considerate traveling companion, but the sex and lust was just so out of this world that the regular stuff fades into the background. We still keep in touch as friends and his apartment is my No. 1 destination for the next time I go to Seoul.
We are a group of women from a Western background who are dating or married to men from an Asian culture. AMWF (Asian Male Western Female) couples, or WWAMs (Western Women Asian Men) as we prefer to call them, have in the past been few and far between but in this increasingly globalized world are becoming more common every day. Still, there are cultural differences that such couples will face and our site is here to help you navigate them. At the same time, we make it our mission to weed through the racism and stereotypes about Asian men and culture out there. We all know the truth is never just black and white (or yellow for that matter).
Aside from gripping personal experiences of relationships with Asian men and their families, and of raising AMWF children, this site takes a look at the portrayal of Asian men in Western media and reviews AMWF related productions. We furthermore will spotlight the amazing women out there who have made Asia their family; past and present.
If you are interested in contributing or have any questions, send an email to Laura at [email protected].
We welcome women and men to join us. You can write for us just once, occasionally, or even every month if you like. It’s up to you.
Plus, if you happen to use WeChat, you can join our exclusive WWAM BAM blogging group, where you can be mentored and supported by fellow bloggers (including yours truly). How cool is that?
So what are you waiting for? Send an email today to Laura at [email protected] — come on and join us! 🙂
My first TEDx speech [https://youtu.be/sWnAtLt8kSs] was about Asian men Western women (AMWF) relationships. I never expected that so many people would reach out to me with a whole range of thoughts. One repeated theme was the pickup artists (PUA), also known as the seduction community. Some believe that pickup is the best way to balance the AMWF issue. In a previous blog, I have written some of my thoughts. It’s a fascinating topic. I feel strongly that more people should know about the existence of PUA, especially women.
From a small sample group of my friends, I discovered that PUA is widely known among men, but for women, it’s another story. There is limited knowledge about PUA and often it’s biased. PUA is mainly a male thing, indeed, but it is a very important development in modern dating. It should be equally important for women.
When I discovered PUA around 2005 it was still a relatively unknown community. I learned some things and was not convinced that this was something for me. Even though I was struggling to have a successful dating life. That’s probably why PUA kept coming back to me. After my first TEDx, I thought, why not do a speech on PUA? And TEDx is fun!
Some people told me it was courageous to talk about the seduction community on TEDx. Yes, and I allowed myself to be that bad boy! TEDx is full of all kinds of topics. Some are shocking, some are depressing, some are controversial. I have always wondered why there was no speech focused on pickup artists?
While preparing this speech, I interviewed many PUA coaches, gathered data, and attended some PUA training sessions once again (don’t ask me how my wife felt about it… 😉 ). I also encountered a strong resistance from the TEDx community on this topic. It was an eye opener for me to see some of the harsh rejections. At a certain moment I noticed that this topic makes some people feel very uncomfortable. But I believe in my mission, even if no one appreciates my effort, even if I am not a dating expert. I want to make more people know about PUA with a balanced view.
From a public speaking point of view, I must admit, it was tough to squeeze everything into a 13-minute speech. I changed versions so much that I ran out of friends to get feedback. They all got fed up with it. Some even got pissed off by what I wanted to say. You may find that my first speech on Asian men Western women was more fun and engaging, but only I know the work I put into this speech.
If you think some of your friends need to know about PUA, then please share my speech. You can also continue the conversation about PUA on my blog whyamwf.wordpress.com.
He watches her from afar, the umbrella in his hand as it rained. The raindrops ran down her unprotected face, creating streak of tears. Late afternoon sun peeked out, almost shy and hesitant in breaking the reverie between the two. The clouds were of white hue, the unexpected summer rain. The smell of earth invaded his nostrils, reinvigorating him in body and soul.
Don’t be sad, he thinks to himself as he looks towards her. He just wants to make sure that she will be all right, his final goodbye. Silently he tries to send messages towards her, hoping against hope that she’ll receive them and will understand what he cannot express in words. Don’t be sad, he repeats the message inside, please remember the happy times you and I have had; the time I told you rabbit living on the moon stories, the time I taught you to use chopsticks and how to eat bibimbap.
All this time had passed, countless years, yet I cannot say these words in my heart. I know that you might think I have no feelings for you, but it’s not true. I wish you could understand more of my culture, but you cannot, and there are things that I cannot find words for in your tongue to express.
The present image faded, no longer there in front of him, but instead the history unfolded, how he first came over to a public school, and silent with humiliation of not knowing English. How he came to meet that unusual girl, Therese Fairbanks.
Slowly, even with blocks along the way, the two of them move forward to becoming more than friends, until that fateful day before the start of their senior prom.
It was May, the rain pouring steadily down, soaking the granite, the splattering heard everywhere. He is dressed in a black tuxedo, a small bowtie around his neck, and in his hands he carries a corsage. His parents are nearby, taking pictures of him, proud of his status, of his scholastic achievements. His father walks over then, and whispers into his ear. He remembers the father’s words, what he will do after the graduation.
He checks the corsage, noticing the crimson rose in the center, surrounded by baby’s breath, an island in the center of an ocean. His parents do not know about Therese, for it is customary not talk about a woman unless there is intention of marriage. His mother is dressed in traditional Korean dress for the honor and takes pictures of him. He hides the corsage, but his younger brother spots it. “What’s that?” He moves over, his fingers getting it out.
He says it is nothing as his fingers tightens over it.
His parents come over then and spot the wrist corsage. “A nice Korean girl, right?” His mother asks as she smiles. He walks away, hoping that they will forget about it. “How come you hadn’t told us?” She asks.
He does not want to tell them that it happens to be an American girl and not a Korean girl. His mother’s family suffered under the American control. “Ah, my apologies,” he says smoothly.
“I should meet her,” his mother continues as she takes a picture of him. She motions for the younger brother to get into the picture as well. “It’s good that you are sticking to Korean girls. I am proud of you. Aigoo, I have heard so many horror stories from the church members about their sons dating American girls, you wouldn’t believe. None of the relationships worked out however, and at least now the sons know better and are dating Korean girls.” Despite the feeling that a ship was sinking inside his heart, he stood beside his brother, smiling.
Very soon he went inside his car, carefully placing the corsage on the front seat so it will not get rumpled. He hopes Therese will like it. He hears rain in the background, pounding against his windows, sees the dark gray skies with endless rain, the streetlights begin to shine faintly, their light in waves when compare it to the incessant rain. His favorite weather though. The two of them agreed to dine in a romantic restaurant and then travel to the prom. He has tried to make it romantic to the best of his ability, but due to his schedule was unable to. She wouldn’t have a limo picking her up. The restaurant and corsage is the best he can do. She will pay for the tickets to go inside.
He stops by her house and honks the car, waiting for her to come out. He wonders if she will remember the umbrella and then decides no, she will not remember it. He gets the umbrella out and walks up to her house, ringing the doorbell, hoping that no one besides Therese will open the door. Much to his dismay, an older woman opens the door, staring at him curiously. She is tall, almost as tall as Therese, with a lined face and a mass of curly light brown hair. She brushes her hair away from her eyes and stares at him curiously. “And you are?” She says without preamble. He clutches the umbrella tightly, the drops becoming tiny waterfalls. He does not want to tell this woman of himself, for she might know his family and if it should be spread around that he is here, his family will be ashamed of him.
“I am a friend of Therese,” he tells her.
“Hmm,” she says, studying him. “For someone who’s from China you’re not that bad looking.”
He doesn’t reply. He is used to people thinking he is either from China or Japan, or else assuming he is from there. He stopped trying to explain to others where he is truly from.
“Hmm,” she says again. “I’ll go get Therese.” She shouts Therese’s name loudly and he sees her enter the room, wearing a crimson red dress that exposed her shoulders, a silk shawl the color that matched the gown was wrapped around arms, tiny flowers sewn in. Her hair was piled up, red rosebuds protruding from the curls. In a word, she is breathtaking.
She greets him with a smile and a wave of her hand as he places corsage on her wrist, carefully checking to make sure that it is not too tight or too lose. He does not meet her eyes, does not want for her to see his emotions inside. “It is still raining,” he says as he lets go of her wrist and picks up the tossed away umbrella. “I will walk you to the car.” He checks to make sure that she will not get wet and the two walk towards his car.
“I like this weather,” she says. “I often fantasized about romance on those days.” She chuckles.
Despite himself, he asks what kind of romance.
“Being in a restaurant as classical music plays, eating expensive dishes, getting an unexpected proposal.”
He does not say anything as he opens the car door and she gets inside. He gets into the driver’s seat and they drive away towards an expensive Korean restaurant that he reserved.
While driving, he calls the restaurant and orders bibimbap. She is sitting beside him, staring outside. The sun peeks out slightly, the dark clouds still on the horizon. He wonders if there might be a rainbow. “Have you ever eaten bibimbap?” He asks her, concentrating on the road.
“No. What’s that?” He hears shuffling from her side and sees her looking at him. “It has a cute name.”
“It is a Korean dish,” he begins to explain. “There are lots of vegetables inside, along with chili pepper and a raw egg and some meat as add-ons. Long time ago, the dish was for emperors.”
She doesn’t say anything.
“This dish, you mix it with chopsticks then eat it with spoon. Do not worry,” he tries to reassure her. “I will show you.”
It stopped raining as the sun peaked out as both saw a rainbow floating across the sky, the arc composed of violet, blue, then finally the bright colors of green yellow and red. “It’s beautiful,” she whispers. He turns towards her, noticing the arms crossing her chest. Tears begin to accumulate, dropping down on the dress, dark marks against the red color. “I hadn’t seen one since I was a little girl.” Carefully he parks the car, extracting the keys. Neither makes a move to leave though.
“We are here,” he reminds her.
“Please, let’s go in when the rainbow is no longer seen.”
“It may take a while.” He is eager to go inside, for the prom will start soon. Unlike her, once he sticks to a plan he does not deter from it and becomes stubborn to changes.
He exits from the car quickly, and moves to her door, opening it. Her eyes focus on his as her hand reaches out for his. He clasps it gently as she leaves her seat, her other hand brushing off the dress. From her hand he feels warmth encompassing his, and surprisingly, he senses a rapid heartbeat. Never before had he felt it from someone, much less from her.
In response, he feels his heart starts beating quickly as he moves her close to him, his body desiring to taste her lips, to give her the taste of himself. He finds himself throwing away the rules, if for a brief moment as his lips seek hers out. He senses her surprise and then he tastes mint from her breath as the breathing quickens for both of them. She stays in his arms for what seems like a long time, and reluctantly he lets her go.
Her eyes are wide; her lips are parted in shock. He turns away from her, the flush heating his cheeks. Inside of himself, he mutters in Korean, “Nae Saranghe,” the words he cannot say to her. Instead he collects himself and the two walk inside. He does not speak of what happened outside.
They are seated quickly, on the opposite side of each other. To his relief, she begins the conversation. Within the restaurant he hears The Classic soundtrack.
“Has anyone told you about the rainbow?” She asks innocently.
He shakes his head.
“There is this story of Noah and the ship. Noah was a righteous man among the bad ones. God was angry at the world and eventually flooded it. He spared Noah and his family though, and they lived in a ship. When they finally emerged from the ship, God set a rainbow in the sky, saying that this promise that He’ll never flood the earth again.”
“Interesting story,” he says. They continue to wait for bibimbap to arrive. He taps his foot impatiently, remembering the movie he had seen. He decides to tell her about the movie. “The music from a movie called Classic.” He says.
“I never heard of it.” The waiter then showed up with their water. She opens up the straw and begins to sip it noiselessly.
“It’s a Korean movie,” he explains. “It starts with a girl liking a guy, but she has friend who likes him too. The friend asks the girl’s help to write letters, and the girl agrees. They begin to write letters, and soon the girl discovers the story about her mother, how the mother falls in love with one guy while being engaged to another.” He stops, unwilling to spoil the movie anymore for her.
“How does the movie end?” She asks after a long pause.
“I will not tell you,” he says. “I want you to see it yourself.”
The food arrives by then. He showed her how to eat bibimbap, how to mix the red pepper and egg together with chopsticks, and then used his spoon to eat the food. She followed his suit. He sees that she likes bibimbap and feels relived. She starts to talk again.
“Would you like to make a promise?” She asks him.
He places his chopsticks on the table, surprised by her words. A promise? What does she mean? “What kind of promise,” he asks cautiously, his fingers remain near the chopsticks.
She places her chin on top of her hands, the chopsticks still in her slender fingers. “We will graduate soon,” she reminds him.
He nods his head in response, wondering where she is leading up to.
“I think,” she pauses as he sees her inhaling inside. She places her hands on her knees and her eyes look down. “I think,” she begins again. “I think I’d like to be your girlfriend.” This time he no longer sees her face. That was not something he expected. He expected for her to ask him about keeping touch together or something of the kind. But not a girlfriend.
“How is this a promise?” He asks calmly, calculating and wondering if there is something he should do or how to switch the topic from a girlfriend to something more favorable.
She clutches her chopsticks tightly, her fingers white from lack of blood. “Just promise me that I’ll be your girlfriend.”
He panics inside then. A girlfriend, his mind echoes over and over. Not something he could escape from. He wants for her to be his girlfriend, but not now, not when his parents are thinking and encouraging him to date a Korean girl, not with his future being the way it is, a future leader of a special organization. Not when there is a very real possibility of him being killed. He realizes then that much to his chagrin, the magic of the day has flown away. He no longer wants to go to the prom. He remains silent, thinking the situation over, carefully considering the options.
“Will you wait for me?” He asks as he begins to eat again.
“What do you mean?” She asks.
“Wait five years before I say yes or no.”
“Why five years? Why not now?”
He finds himself no longer able to face her. He turns his head away from hers, feeling her eyes on his face. “There are things I need to do, things I need to prepare for. I cannot have a girlfriend now, it might ruin my life.”
“What things?” She asks.
“I cannot tell you,” he says. “Please wait.”
Afterwards she told him she didn’t want to go to the prom and so he took her home. He saw the tears flowing down her cheeks as she rang her own doorbell and ran inside when the door was opened. He drove home.
Few weeks passed until he graduated and then his job began. His father gave him the airplane ticket and he called Therese at the last minute, asking her to meet him at a restaurant for a final goodbye. During that time he contemplates on whether or not to tell his family about Therese and finally decides to tell them. Understandably they were angry and upset, his mother in particular reminded him of the atrocious acts the Americans have done against her own family. Despite their disappointment in his decision for a mate, he is still needed by them. “You will continue to work here,” his father tells him, “but you no longer will have us as your family unless you agree to break up with the girl.”
Even if the pain in his heart was great and he disliked the decision forced upon him, he told them that he will not break up with Therese. Instantly he was kicked out of the house, carrying clothes on his back. His father placed him in a more dangerous position than before and if he survived the next five years then he might return and claim Therese as his own.
With a heavy heart he returns to the much pressing present and no longer sees those happy times inside his mind. Instead, the present becomes more visible as he feels tears pour down his cheeks, mixing in with the rain, adding in the saltiness. His memories gather up together like a pile of leaves, each one unique and special, different emotion colored in, and he hopes that should they fly away, every single one will return to her so she could put them in a scrapbook and look at them each time she feels sad, and soon he watches as she gets up and walks away, her form and shadow fading into others, no longer standing out. He himself gets up and walks away to his destiny, wondering if he will see her again as behind them a rainbow begins to appear within the gray clouded yet at the same time clear sky.
Svetlana is a book review blogger and enjoys reading unique literature as well as discovering AM/WF books. Her blog has something for everyone.
I’m thrilled to run this guest post from Emily Hsiang, a production assistant and editor for a film startup in Taipei called MURIS producing the new documentary Hanzi. This film explores international design, visual culture and identity through the lens of modern Chinese typography, and is being supported by a Kickstarter campaign (already fully funded with only 7 days to go!). Here’s the introduction to the film from Kickstarter:
Chinese is one of the oldest and most used languages in the world, yet it is perceived as difficult to learn. Furthermore, there has been a lack of discussion on Chinese typography and its transition into the digital era compared to its western counterparts. Recently there has been a renaissance and reviewing of Chinese characters in Asia and internationally, with typography and lettering books often topping the best selling books, and more and more typographical courses and workshops being held in the cities. We think that’s worth exploring to the discussion of design and cultural identity.
Collaborating with filmmakers from New York, Hong Kong, London and Taipei, Hanzi includes interviews from ShaoLan, founder and creator of Chineasy in London; Akira Kobayashi, a Japanese renowned Roman font designer; Sammy Or, a veteran Chinese font designer based in Hong Kong; also Ri Xing Type Foundry, the last traditional Chinese letterpress type foundry in the world and more, gathering some of the most important figures and insight in the current Chinese education and typography field.
This film is not just about Chinese characters, we wanted to keep the ideas and messages applicable to all languages and cultures. Exploring universal subjects such as “How does language shape identity? What role does handwriting play in the digital age?”, Hanzi encourages audiences around the world to revisit and rethink their own culture, language and identity.
Hanzi is an upcoming feature-length documentary exploring international design, visual culture and identity through the lens of modern Chinese typography.
We didn’t want this film to just be about Chinese characters, we wanted to keep the ideas and messages applicable to all languages and cultures. Exploring universal subjects such as “How does language shape identity? What role does handwriting play in the digital age?”
One of the themes we talked about in Hanzi is cultural and personal identity. And one of the biggest factors in “finding and having an identity” comes from your name.
Most of us grow up with a name chosen by our parents. Just like how Asian American kids would have English names, many Westerners that came to Asia to study are given Chinese names. Asian cultures, in general, take great pride and thought into picking names. Each combination of characters not only needs to sound nice, it usually has meanings of virtue or aspirations.
Ash Henson is the Co-founder of Outlier Linguistics, a new dictionary of Chinese characters based on the latest research on the Chinese writing system. As an American from Texas, he had to learn Chinese as an adult, which inspired him to create his app. In the movie, he shared with us about how and why he learned Chinese and the relationship between language and personal identity.
We asked him how he chose his Chinese name 李艾希:
When Ash was an undergrad, his roommate’s girlfriend was Taiwanese. Ash’s full English name is Ashley which came from the movie Gone with the Wind. His roommate’s girlfriend looked up the Chinese book version of the book – which was 艾希禮. Since 禮 sounds the same as 李 – a very common last name in Asia, Ash adapted his name into 李艾希 to avoid confusion from local Taiwanese.
Other examples of Chinese names and their meanings from a local point of view could show the expectations and hopes of Chinese parents. With that in mind, 國榮 is a very popular boy’s name. 國 means nation, whereas 榮 means prosperity. So 國榮 means “to bring prosperity to his or her nation”. Heavy stuff huh?
Growing up as an Asian American, I have a complicated feeling towards my names. In English, my name is Emily – a popular girl’s name. In Chinese, my name is 項藍 – composed of a rare one-letter name and an even rarer surname. 項 in ancient Chinese means the part between one’s skull and the back of one’s neck. 藍 means blue – an inspiration of a bright, cloudless day on which I was born. While I identify with both names, I do have a sort of special pride in having the color blue in my name.
What’s your Chinese name story?
Emily Hsiang is a production assistant and editor for MURIS, a film startup in Taipei producing the new documentary Hanzi.
I’m thrilled to run this guest post from Jackie, a Beijing-based blogger who writes about raising multicultural kids at Bringing Up The Parks.
Do you have a story that you’d like to share on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about what gets published here.
I grew up in a country that wasn’t reflected on my passport and was raised in a culture that had nothing to do with the actual local customs. And yet despite everything you’ve just read, I grew up mostly monocultural.
Multiculturalism, contrary to the popular assumption, doesn’t always happen naturally. Take it from me—I’m from one. My multicultural family is headed by a Chinese-Filipino and a Chinese-Malaysian. Today, multiculturalism is when parents share their heritage with their children to help strengthen or solidify their identity. But back then, people didn’t really think much of the term. The extent of my understanding of Malaysia was limited to the stories my mom shared and the annual traveling that we did.
Not just that: growing up Filipino-Chinese (or Chinoy as some might call it) in the Philippines means knowing what the local culture is like, but not necessarily knowing it on a more personal level. And so I mainly grew up in the company of fellow Chinoys, only meeting full-blooded Filipino friends for the first time when I got to college.
College was when I realized I had issues with identity. But I didn’t even really understand the depth of my inner conflict until I recently reread some stories I wrote from those days. A number of it involved racial differences and even discrimination, and this is why I love raising my children in Beijing.
In Beijing, I Can Teach Culture on a more Balanced Scale
“Good morning Mommy,” greets my older daughter with a peck on the cheek. Envious, the younger will usually also approach, giving me a few more than her sister did. The older one will see it as a challenge, and next thing you know I’m drowning in kisses. I love it, because it’s fun and kissing elders on the cheek is quite normal back home. In my husband’s country, however, Korean children are expected to bow instead.
My children know that, and I love that they know that. My goal is to give them the tools to have the ability to jump, wait no, to effortlessly walk from one culture into the other as if there was no boundary distinguishing the two. It is sweet to receive a kiss on the cheek, but not every culture is open to that. And in our home, there are four cultures I’d like to expose my children to so that they have an idea of their roots.
When I was much younger, no one really asked me where I was from because my mother did all the answering. It was when I started traveling on my own that the question really bothered me. Malaysia is my passport country, but my inability to speak the local language and my accent screams foreigner. The Philippines is my home country, because that’s literally where my original home is but I need a “Balikbayan” stamp (foreign Filipino returnee) for a one-year stay. China is the country my family were originally from, whose culture we still practice in the Philippines and in Malaysia up until today, but China’s not going to recognize us. And Korea… oh most importantly Korea. Korea is now my home, because it is my husband’s. Though I’m not certain I really belong anywhere, I’d still like my children to understand them on a deeper level.
Because, truth is, identity (or the lack of it) can be crippling, or a thorn you can’t seem to get rid of. This is why so many multicultural families nowadays are intentionally raising their children to know their parents’ backgrounds.
Likewise, if we were still living in Korea, my children would be expected to be Korean, and only Korean. The reason is simple: outsiders get bullied, especially if they don’t look like Koreans. South Korea has been a monocultural society for so long that it’s still struggling to teach its younger generations to be more accepting of multicultural families.
In Beijing, however, as a foreign mom I can raise my children my way. Also helpers are more affordable here, and ours is a Korean-Chinese lady who only speaks to the children in Korean. My older daughter is learning about Chinese culture from her school, and I’m teaching my girls Filipino and Malaysian culture through small things like books and stories.
In Beijing, My Children Can be Naturally Multilingual
My husband and I really wanted our children to learn Mandarin, but it wasn’t easy to do so while we were in Korea considering how expensive it is. Fortunately we were expatriated to China, a dream come true, and now my older daughter is in a bilingual school where her peers are from all over the world. At the moment, my older daughter can speak three languages while my younger daughter can speak two and a bit of Chinese. This excites us, especially my mother whose native language is Mandarin. Finally someone in her family who can speak Mandarin as well!
In Beijing, My Children Can Meet People from All Over the World
In school, my firstborn’s classmates are from all over the world. Some of her closest friends (who are children of my own friends) are from different parts of Asia. Having friends from everywhere means that we always have an excuse to eat our native food or even learn about the different cultures from those countries. But most importantly, my children have more opportunity to become more accepting and more open-minded and more aware of different cultures.
My friend, for example, quickly corrected her half-German daughter when she was calling me by my name. When my daughter asked what happened, I explained that in Europe, it’s acceptable to call adults by their first names. My daughter accepted the explanation and just kept on playing. I almost doubted that she understood what I told her until she later on repeated the story to me!
Another importance is that my children will be less inclined to be racists. Some Chinoys I know from back in the Philippines see Filipinos in a negative light. The reason is simple: they don’t know enough people. I’ve met Filipinos who I look up to, whom I admire for their own personal qualities. Truth is, the more people my children know from different places, the less inclined they will be to think negatively of those places.
In Beijing, We Can Make our Own Identity
When people ask my daughter where she’s from, she simply answers Korea. I’m okay with that, because it’s simpler. But when it’s just us talking about where we’re from, we do it by discussing where all our family is from. My children know that they have family in South Korea, Philippines and even in Malaysia, and that our home is in China. My older daughter doesn’t like calling herself a Korean-Filipino-Malaysian-Chinese just because it’s too long. But rest assured, we’re thinking of a shorter name for all the cultures we hold.
What’s important is that we recognize and embrace our multiculturalism. And for my family, Beijing is the best place to do it.
Jackie is a Chinese-Malaysian-Filipina who blogs about raising multicultural kids at Bringinguptheparks.com.
Do you have a story — fictional or real — to share here on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn how to have your words published on the blog.
You look surprised. You are probably wondering how did you get to this place. It is so dark and there are no stars in the sky, even though it is obviously nighttime. It is okay. You have every right to be surprised. For I was the same long, long ago when I found myself in your same shoes. Please do not be afraid of me. I am not here to harm you. I am here to be your friend and companion for the long journey we are about to make. That is why I am holding this lantern in my hands. But most of all, I am here to help you understand the situation you are currently in. For understanding is the first crucial step to acceptance.
Now, please let me tell you straight and properly. You are dead.
You are probably now wondering, Is this man threatening me? No. It is not my intention at all to frighten you. You are dead in the truest sense, which is why you are here. Please take a moment to search your thoughts. Think long and hard about what happened before you woke up and found yourself standing in this desert. It is okay. I am a patient person.
You are starting to remember now. Which is good. It is slowly starting to come back to you.
It had just been an ordinary day in the middle of summer. You had showed up to work at that huge warehouse right at the dead-end road where the town limit stopped and the railroad tracks of the old terminal cut across the span ahead. Your supervisor had requested that you gather up a certain number of empty pallets for the delivery that is impending that day. You spotted a small stack of unused pallets resting atop a massive tower of freight that had been moved into the middle of the room. You wondered why anyone would put empty pallets somewhere so hard to reach. But you got to work immediately. One of your coworkers had borrowed the ladder, but you decided, for some unknown reason, that you would climb to the top of that tower, and throw the pallets to the ground one by one. Perhaps you wanted to save time. I don’t blame you, for I would have thought the same had I been there. However, did you really think it was that good of an idea to climb onto such an unstable mass of loosely stacked cargo? But you still went ahead and climbed.
You were almost at the top when the tower began to tilt. You only had one second. One long second, to utter a single cry of bewilderment, before you crashed to the concrete floor, breaking your back in the process. You had tried to get out of the way, but you were unable to move at all. Pallet after pallet toppled downward and crushed into you. Steel drums filled with paint thinner and kerosene, shattering every bone in your body, smashing your ribs into pieces and driving them through your lungs and heart like bullets. Your life was crushed out of you as you watched, helpless and in unbearable pain.
You woke up and found yourself here. Rocks and gravel stretching as far as the eye could see. A black, starless sky tinted reddishly at the horizon. And me, with my dusty worn coat, dirt covered slouch hat, and a lantern providing just enough light for us to see each other’s faces. But don’t worry. We ain’t staying here forever. Look to your right, where I am pointing. Do you see that road, stretching far down towards the horizon where the mountains loom and the red glow fills the sky? That is what we will be headed towards. I can see that you are scared. It is okay, for I had been just as scared as you when I walked this very road. It will be a very long walk, and when we finally reach the mountains, there will be a great river flowing at their bases. And it is there, where we will meet…him.
You are thinking now, Who is this him? Frankly, I don’t even know. I simply refer to him as the Raftsman. For he has the only boat in sight that can take us across the river. And it is when you are crossing the river in his raft, that all the deeds you have performed in your life so far will be weighed and judged before you. And perhaps, it is the Raftsman who will decide which direction your journey shall go next. But don’t worry. I know it is a long walk we will have to embark on, therefore, I shall tell you a story along the way. A story to brighten your heart and hopefully, keep the darkness and loneliness that surrounds us at bay. A true story, from a life long past.
So with that said, lets walk. Just keep your eyes and feet on the road, and follow me, and we should be fine. Now, perhaps I should tell you a little about myself and why I had ended up here. Before you had seen me as you see now, long, long ago, I had been a person just like you. In every sense of the word. I had a loving family, held a job, and had the most wonderful woman in the world to love and return my love. She was my life, and not a single day goes by without me thinking about her and yearning to return to her arms as soon as possible.
Her name was Anna, and by God I could remember the surprise on the faces of our classmates when they discovered that Anna had chosen to go with me to the prom. Me, the one that everyone was prone to teasing when they were in younger grades, albeit lightly. But Anna was a very quiet and timid girl who has just immigrated to this country from Ukraine and barely understood any English. It was her accent which had made her the primary target of the school bullies, and it was me who always came to her aid and comfort every time a page would be ripped out of her notebook or a foot will trip her up in the hallways and make her fall. I ain’t got that many friends anyway, so why shouldn’t I be with her. Someone really just like me in every bit. Even though I had black hair, and eyes that some folk like to make fun of, since they were, well, different. So it was only natural that I had spent more and more time with her. Time that I cherished, and held on to, as we grew older and matured.
However, I changed. And the worst of it is, I found myself drawn to easy money. I became a gambler, and as the poker and blackjack table slowly conquered my life, I had lost my job as well. Despite my beloved Anna pleading with me to change my ways and return to being the loving husband as I was before, I continued on the road to eternal misery.
All right now, before I continue again, please let me make you aware of a few…important things. You may have noticed now during our walk that there are shadows in the desert all around us. Don’t you look at me and pretend you don’t know what the hell I am talkin’ about. I saw you glancin’ around. You are probably thinking, This is a damn desert out here. Ain’t not one goddamn tree or shrub within miles to be casting shadows. Let me tell you right here on the spot. These ain’t shadows. What are they? How the hell should I know. It ain’t like you can talk to em’ or such. But the light from my lantern keeps em’ at bay. This I’ll let ye’ know.
Hey! Goddamit don’t stop. Keep on walking. These things can feel fear and weakness, and when they do, they pounce. I’ve seen em’ pounce. Seen em’ up close even, when I put this here lantern on the ground to rest. Their faces, Goddamit, enough with it. Just keep on walkin’, and keep yer’ feet on the road, on the path, and you’ll be fine. As long this lamp is lit, they ain’t gon’ come close.
Along the way, I had fallen into the company of evil men, who convinced me that my skills at the card table could be put into even greater use. I began to deal, and run rigged games, where the opposing side will always lose due to my trickery and ingenuity. The money I earned from these rigged games seduced me even further. I began dealing full time, working for those same men of ill repute who had introduced me to this world of thievery. And by God, how many lives I had ruined. Many of the men who came to the saloon and attended my card games were men who barely made enough to keep their families alive. I had robbed each and every one of them. Some, I had even taken their entire life savings, for no compulsive gambler could resist the urge to play on despite losing again and again.
I became a hated man. But I was drunk on ignorance, and did not care. Some of the money I had earned I had used to buy off the local sheriff, so the law will always turn its head to my goings on. I carried a pistol with me all the time. Carried on my hip, plain as daylight, to show the world that a new outlaw was in town. And he meant strictly business.
I never thought that one day, it will all catch up with me, and by God, catch up with me it did. I had become hated, but hatred was the only thing that all those men whose lives I had cast into bankruptcy were capable of.
But as time went on, some of em’ went further than just hatred. It caught up to me one bright, moonlit night as I stood outside the door of one of the saloons that I dealt in, counting my ill gotten wealth by the light of the entrance lamp. I never even had the time to draw my gun, for they hit me from behind. One of em’ smashed a crowbar into the side of my head, while another began to beat me savagely with a steel pipe. I hit the ground, gushing blood, screaming in pain. But nobody heard me. And even if some did, they ain’t giving a damn.
They had thrown me, still conscious, into the back of a pickup truck, and driven me out of town. They stopped on an old wooden bridge over a creek of whose significance I just remembered then. It was the place where she and I fell in love and shared our first kiss, all those long years ago. Anna. My sweet Anna. The one with the sweet face, blue eyes and long hair as yellow as the buttercups of summer. And the one who had long since left me and moved away when I stopped loving her in order to pursue my new vice.
I only had enough time to remember this, and shed a few tears, as they dragged my bleeding body out of the truck bed and flung me over the bridge into the creek. The creek was shallow, so I landed on my back in the water. I could hear my spine crack as it struck the rocks of the creek bottom. I stared up at the bridge again, and in the moonlight, I could see one of the men pull something out of his coat pocket. It was a revolver. Huge and glinting silver stainless steel .357 Magnum, just like the one I carried. With a barrel the length of your goddamn arm. They passed the gun amongst each other, each one blasting me in the head and chest until the cylinder emptied.
And I woke up, right here in this godforsaken desert country, in the same place you found yourself at the beginning of our journey. Where the night is eternal and ain’t no stars in the black sky, though the mountains in the horizon seems to be burning red. I walked this same here road we walked on right now. Cursing myself, crying out for Anna, for my old life back. Ain’t gonna happen though. Ye’ can’t undo what you done already.
See this road below your feet? See how worn it is. Plenty of men have walked this same road before us. Men who wish they could change what they done. George Custers’ done walkin’ down this road. So did ol’ Wild Bill, missin’ half his head from where Jack McCall done shot him at pointblank range.
I walked this road myself. And the Raftsman had judged me, just like he had judged all the others. But he ain’t sent me anywhere else. Not me, outta all those who walked here. Not me. He has said to me that I was a foolish one. One who had found love, what many have sought for, only to fail. I threw it away like a damn fool. And like the fool I am, he has given me this goddamn lantern and made me walk this road forever, telling my story to everyone that walks down this beaten path. Just like how in them old days, they make thieves stand on the street corner and wear a sign sayin’ all the bad deeds they have done, for the whole goddamn town to see. Guess that’s his way of makin’ me his personal village idiot.
Am I complainin’? After all this? Hell no. I earned it, and I git’ to spend it. By the way, look at how far we have come on this road. Them mountains sure seem closer now than before. But we still got a long ways to walk and we don’t have to wait for the Sun to come out soon. ‘Cause it ain’t gonna come out ever in this place. If you are tired, we can rest. I got matches, and there is dried grass and twigs all ’round. I’ll build us a fire and the light will keep these…fiends…at bay. For all my troubles the Raftsman had given me something I truly cherish. I thank him for every goddamn day. He’s given me all the whiskey I can ever drink, so I git’ to drink every day and think about what I done. Want a swig? Well then, take the damn bottle and drink it up pard.
Raymond Chen is the author of the graphic novel “Borderlands”, a story about a Chinese student and his beloved Peruvian wife. His harrowing journey through a landscape of death and brutality would become the fight for the survival of an entire nation. The novel is available to read at no charge here: http://blueskycountry.tumblr.com.
Do you have a sad story or other guest post you’d like to share here? Visit the submit a post page to learn how to have your words published on Speaking of China.
Good evening fellow storytellers. Now you are probably wondering what does this tired looking man in the dusty old coat have to say about a love story between a Chinese man and a French woman. Hell, I look like someone you talk to when you need advice on what gun you should use when you are tryin’ to take down a grizzly bear in the Rockies. Half the time I give that kind of advice. But tonight, in response to another story in this place titled “Crying Over Him“, I feel like I got some’ to say that has been in my memory for the past 15 years.
Now I dabble in writing now and then and even try to work on my own literature. But most of the time I find myself drawn again and ‘gain to that old fifth of Jacks. But tonight I got a true story to tell that brings a tear even to this weathered face time again.
So pull your chairs around the table and get me the barkeep if you will? I’ll take a bottle of Jim Beam and I am buying for the rest of yeh’…
This story is one that my Uncle shared with me about one of the young men on his work team back in 1997. First off, we must realize that Asian men, most particularly Chinese men, are very reserved and self-conscious. As a man of Chinese descent myself I can say that I am no exception. We simply don’t make the “first move”. Especially in this day and age, ANY woman is approached on a daily basis by many creeps and shady men with bad intentions. We DON’T want to be potentially thought of as “ugh, yet another guy is trying to hit on me”. Because the life of most Chinese men revolve around how others think of him, so he does not want to be put in a position where someone may judge him negatively. So most Chinese males do not ask the girls they like on dates, and wait for them to ask first.
Now on to the story. My uncle is an excavation supervisor in one of the numerous ore mines that dot the northern borderlands of the China-Mongolia frontier. In 1997 a new man joined his team. Lets call him Wei, shortened version of his much longer Chinese name. A man from Shanghai, around age 22, whose dream to operate heavy equipment and drive industrial machinery just came true. He was one of the best workers on the team and would be the first to respond to any crisis that occurred, and always exceeded expectations. He was extremely popular with his coworkers, always shared jokes, drinks, and laughs. And a manly man of the truest sense who did not mind going into danger.
Then we found out about Ella. Ella was a French girl who studied in Shanghai. Blonde hair, with the face of an angel. She, in her beautiful sky-blue dress, just did not fit in amongst the backdrop of the harsh ruggedness of the northern borderlands, their ravines of carved rocks and the huge diesel excavators belching acrid smoke into the winter sky. But there she stood, amongst the flashing lights of the rescue trucks and running figures of shouting paramedics and military men, tears streaming down her face.
Ella had met Wei when he was working in a bakery in Shanghai’s Meilong district. She had been living in Shanghai for just over 4 months, pursuing a career in the performing arts. Which was exactly the point of their first conversation, while he tried to fill orders and clean kitchenware at the same time. Their mutual understanding of English helped them out in miraculous ways. Wei loved Chinese TV serials, and the two of them talked about acting and movies in general. Their first conversation became the one of many. They began to see each other outside of work. Usually Wei would take Ella to one of the more traditional restaurants in the area and they would spend long hours simply walking around the town or watch the city skyline from the banks of the Suzhou River. Wei showed genuine care and concern for her, even going of his way to place his jacket over her when a freak snow squall began to blow one day as they tried to make it back home. Despite Ella’s insisting that she was not cold even though all she had was a light sweater, Wei told her to keep the jacket on. He said nothing, even though his shivering betrayed his true condition. But he did not say anything else. And he did not say anything else to suggest that their friendship may progress to anything else. Even though now they began to walk hand in hand and every time they said their goodbye in front of her apartment, he would kiss her hand and press it against his face for a long moment before turning to leave. And each day, Ella would look forward to spending more time with Wei, as we found out afterward. He in turn, as well, and on multiple occasions, showing more concern for her well being than his own. Even though deep inside, Ella yearned for the day Wei would ask her the question, that question never came.
One day, Wei told Ella that he planned to get a “real job” instead of the chump change that retail and food service always is. When she asked him what he meant, he told her that he had scored a position as a tunnel excavator in a firm that was blasting megatons of metallic ore from the long extinct volcanic ridges of the northern high country. He would be leaving soon, embarking by train to his new place of employment up in the country where people always referred to as the “meeting place between Heaven and Earth. He told her that he will write often. The one thing he said before leaving was that “Ella, if you ever feel lonely, depressed or that something in the world is letting you down, don’t, because I will always care about you and be there for you”.
Seven months after Wei had started working in Lower Mongolia and just 2 days after Ella had received his last letter, Wei was rousted from sleep one night by the team foreman. Wei had excelled as a worker and did not hesitate to be coached in a new position as equipment maintainer and diesel mechanic trainee. Well on this particular night in the bleak February of 1997, watchmen had reported smelling hydrocarbon fumes coming from the entrance of a newly dug set of tunnels. One suspected that maybe one of the big Tilley lamps used to illuminate the grounds was leaking from a faulty valve. Wei was told to inspect the premises and check for any sign of trouble. As a backup, Wei had two of the team excavators to go with him in case he need help moving something.
He did not see anything out of place as he went deeper into the shaft, even though the rancid odor of mercaptan was almost unbearable. Then he remembered that no power had been connected to this set of shafts yet and propane was still being used for illumination in the outer vestibule of the tunnel. The black hoses of the mainline led further back into the shaft, and in one of the recesses dug into the walls of the corridor, a large metal door, partly off its hinges and now unmovable due to it being wedged against the mouth of the recess, lay between him and the bulk tanks that supplied the gas to the mantles of the overhead fixtures. The stench was the most profound here and Wei decided that this metal slab had to be removed so he could look at the tanks. Despite the combined efforts of three muscular men, that damned slab just would not budge. Cursing whichever idiot had apparently rammed the door with a hi-lo machine and never bothered to report it, Wei had the door handles attached to a winch that one of the men outside had brought, mounted on the front bumper of a 500 HP FAW ore loader. The chains now connected, Wei signaled for the man in the truck to start the winch motor.
The winch had proved to be extremely effective at removing the obstruction, but it was not really built for this type of work. As a matter of fact, the winch was designed for shunting disabled vehicles or railcars that had no motive power and must be moved immediately. It was entirely too powerful, and before the cries of the frantic men in the tunnel had reached the driver to shut off the engine, the door, along with a section of the wall, had exploded free and was now hurtling towards the opening of the shaft, bulldozing everything in it’s path. The several hundred pound payload struck the support beams of the shaft and they came tumbling down, bringing rocks and cement thundering to the floor. By the time the loader operator had engaged the emergency shutoff and cut the engine, the entire crew of the sector had stumbled out of their bunks, watching a pillar of dust rise from the place where the new shafts had been.
They, the experts in their suits and the military engineers in their green uniforms, had told us that it was by a stroke of luck that the leaking propane had not detonated. That if it did, the firestorm would have jeopardized the lives of everyone in that sector. But was it really good luck for the family members of the four workmen that were in the tunnel when the winch and it’s payload had turned the tunnel into the bore of a monstrous cannon? For the next several days, men, women and children gathered at the mine entrance as rescuers frantically tried to remove the multiple tons of debris that now blocked the shafts. Among those crying for their beloved husbands and sons was a beautiful young French woman named Ella, who had arrived from Shanghai as soon as my uncle had sorted through Wei’s emergency contacts and saw the number listed among those of his immediate family.
They had found him by then, his body crushed into an unrecognizable mass by the tons of cement and steel that came down from the tunnel’s overhead supports. My uncle stood there and watched as Ella, sobbing hysterically, had ran to the tent where the corpses were stored, only to be carried back to the perimeter entrance by soldiers and firemen.
It took this incident, and several more after that, before China’s government began a nationwide campaign to address the lack of regard for safety that existed in a lot of the heavy industrial settings, most particularly in the mining sector. As to Ella, my uncle had never heard from her again, although an English speaking member of the work team had tried to console her when she had arrived at the mine, telling her that Wei was the best worker this company has ever hired. Loyal, faithful, and badass to the core.
I had never met this Wei, and only have heard stories from my Uncle, when I would go visit his ranch house in the borderlands, and we would head to the saloon and guzzle down our favorite whiskeys. I would tell my uncle about my life in the USA, and how the great the hunting and fishing was in the hill country of western Pennsylvania. I would tell him about the guns, the bows, the snowmobiles and the winter nights around campfires with my backcountry friends after a day of stalking for bucks with our scoped Winchesters. He in turn, would tell me about the hardassed old guys in his neck of the mountains that still built bows of steel and bronze that could bring down elephants. But more often than not, he would tell about Wei, and how no one in the team knew he fell in love with a French woman. Whiskey is my favorite drink. In fact, it is the one of the only things I love to drink. The other being hill country homebrew straight from the cabin distilleries of the Appalachian. But no matter how warm the alcohol flowing through my bloodstream makes me feel, I cannot bring myself to think about just what went through Wei’s head the second he realized that something had gone truly and terribly wrong down in that dark and cold shaft deep in the cliff.
Raymond Chen is the author of the graphic novel “Borderlands”, a story about a Chinese student and his beloved Peruvian wife. His harrowing journey through a landscape of death and brutality would become the fight for the survival of an entire nation. The novel is available to read at no charge here: http://blueskycountry.tumblr.com.
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