Growing up in constant dichotomy
Oh before I forget these are the mails your mom use to send you when she tried to go to the US in 97. Not only that but I’ve seen your Weixin (Wechat, 微信) and here is a pen for you, it’s a fountain pen. I wasn’t sure what it was, the wrinkles on her face, the constant battle for a calmness on my great aunt’s face that set me off. It was then that the 17 years of the repressed feelings that opened, and I began to cry.
Looking back now at my cousin’s house(表姑的家), I realized that I’ve always lived in a dichotomy. When was growing up, my mom attempted to come to the US for the first time, in 1996 and 1997, a failed two-year journey that landed back in China. Even at that early age, from the constant “be good child, listen to your mother and uncles,” or the “study hard, Dad is working very hard over here so that you can have a future.”, I knew that there exist an America. It was a mass diaspora; everyone went to the US from my region and another reason in Fujian Province. All those Chinese American restaurants you see around you, are from some mother or some father trying to make a better future for their kids in Fuzhou. If their immigration papers don’t go through, like my father’s didn’t, you don’t see them. You hear their same tongue and message over the phone every few nights phoned over an international phone card. In China due to our extended family structure of child support, it was all right.
It was mother’s turn now, and my mom also left me for an unknown period. At that time my mom told me that she would also try to go to the US, what I didn’t know or realize then was how long she would be gone for. Like a dog waiting for his owner to come home. But they prepped for it and sent away from home to my great aunt’s place. She is my paternal grandmother’s sister in Quanzho泉州, a city southwest of Lianjian. Back then there were no fast electric trains that traveled 200km/h (125mph), there weren’t even highway systems build in place. When I got off the train yesterday, I wondered why it felt so fast now. I later asked my uncle, and he said that it took 6 hours to take the rural roads across the province. 6 hours to a child is a long time, so was the feeling not knowing when I would see my mother again. They moved me here for a third of my life; I was six then, so it seemed to be a third of my life. Time moved relatively slower back then.
When I arrived in Quanzhou things were different, everyone spoke the proper tongue of the Mandarin, and they also spoke the familiar tongue of the min-nan dialect. When I was in Lianjiang, we typically spoke Mandarin only in school settings, or when we wanna be fancy. Mandarin was the language of the people, if you talked Mandarin it means that you spoke English in China. Only the elderly like my grandparents (on both sides) didn’t speak Mandarin. Kids spoke it as their native language now, and the dialects are slowly forgotten. I remember my great aunt would tell me that my Mandarin has always been excellent, what can I said, I was a smart child. Heh.
I never understood why my great aunt’s family loved me so much; they treated me like I was their blood. My great aunt’s daughter treated me like her cute little brother; I was quiet then but a curious child. They became my family for the next two years.
Lianjiang China, the place I grew up was a rural town. In the mornings you’ll hear the cackling of this roosters, and you’ll go to fresh marketplaces in the village. Over here you don’t see many bricks broken down houses, you know more structured utilitarian architectures housing that’s similar to New York. Tall apartment is looking things. Over here you’ll hear more about politics, and you’ll talk to more of them college goers, and educated folks. Over in Lianjiang, one would concern more with how to get to the US.
My great aunt and uncle are both college professors, and one was a math professor, and one was a physics professor. To us rural folks those with education were hard to come by, and thus became a reference point of education and intellectualism. My father even now doesn’t realize that my college education made me to the level of my great aunts and uncles, my great aunt tells him otherwise. Heh.
One of the experiments that my great uncle showed me before was a solar vehicle. How the hell does a toy car move on its own just by using these little black glass plates on the top of the car?! To my little 6-year-old brain, I was quite boggled. They would answer any questions I asked them, perfect for me. Yesterday my great aunt showed me a relic from the past. It was my report card, and I got mostly high marks.
When I lived here, I also went to school here as well. I don’t remember much of what school here was like, but I enjoyed it. One particular thought was a library book, it was a thick blue book, it was at a 6th-grade level, at the time I was in the first grade. On extraterrestrials, and Martian. Whenever I had issues with reading, I would ask my great aunt and uncle, and most of the time I was around their daughter, Ting-Ting婷婷.
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She adored me; I think she was about 22 years old when I lived here. Wow, come to think of it, it’s crazy how young a 22-year-old is now. She would sit by me when I read and took me to the beach, and even see Titanic when it first came out. Chinese dubbing, I thought it was normal that Americans spoke Chinese. Ting Ting was an awesome big sister, and even after all these years she still has the same love for me as she did when I was little. Her daughter is ten now, nicknamed Du Du, I wish to see her grow up as Ting Ting did when I was growing up. She’s a talented little brat, arrogant yet cutesy, her father gave her a lot of freedom and let her explore her creative endeavors. Now she plays the flute, speak basic English, write Chinese Calligraphy, solve for x, and probably some other stuff.
My other cousin too taught me would read by my side too, she is four years younger than Ting Ting, and she taught a school dance group. I too was involved in it when I was little here. I saw her last night here too, the same level of poise as she did back then, she is still a school dance teacher, living a simple life around here.
Living here even though for two years shaped me unknowingly, for the better. As a young child, I would cry at the sound of my mother’s voice over the phone, I would ask her when she would come back, and my great aunt and uncle would comfort me. I didn’t realize how fortunate it was to have a supportive environment like this, a loving environment that harbored education above all else. Very different than the mentality of the people in my hometown when they treasure money above all else.
This place is the Ann Arbor to my Ypsilanti, the America to my China, the urban to my rural. My dichotomy in life in growing up. This place is fascinating, and I wish to learn more about it, maybe one day.
My great uncle passed away this year, due to Alzheimer-related pathologies. RIP, I Came home after 17 years.
Originally published at Thoughts, thoughts.