Friday, August 29, 2014

If you're reading this blog...

This blog has always created a dilemma for me.  I keep it anonymous.  I don't share it with colleagues, friends or family because I do not want to reveal the identity of the women I write about.  Why? There is a doubt within, a fear if you like, that if I do, somehow - inadvertently - trouble might ensue.  I love these women and their families and would never want anyone to come into harm's way.  My husband tells me I should not worry...but I do. 

But...I'm also craving feedback on my writing.  So, if you stumble across it, please consider sparing a minute to leave a comment or two.  I'd appreciate that so much.  Blink Blink

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An Astonishing Choice


I'm on my way.
Determined, at last,
To leave.

But first -
A final glance

At chickens
Pecking at melon seeds
Strewn across the yard

As unaware as you, my son,
Taking your usual repose,
your snoring soothes.

I like its steadiness.

But I must go.

I'm on my way.
Determined, at last,
To leave.

I'm sound of mind
And this pretense must end -

She wishes me gone -
the pest - you've heard her say
So finally, at jiu shi sui*,

I'm resolute:

I will no longer stay.

A few swift swallows
Is all that it will take.

* = 90 years old

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Update on Mei Mei (Youngest Sister-in-Law)

I love Mei Mei.  She's the sister-in-law who best knows me, with whom I never fail to feel loved.  She's a beautiful soul - gentle and wise - ever willing to patiently select words I can understand, given my limited Chinese vocabulary.  Ever sweet, ever thoughtful, ever kind.

Mei Mei's adopted daughter has turned out to be incredibly spunky, quick minded and independent.  I know Mei Mei sees her daughter's potential and realises she's especially bright.  It's always beautiful to see them together - to hear the articulate, animated little girl engaged in conversation with her Mama, surprisingly in Mandarin rather than the dialect,  since this is what is valued today.  When we visit, Mei Mei sometimes rides her electric bicycle to our new house in the ancestral village.  Her husband's village is about 15 minutes ride, and quite often, her daughter will be balancing confidently with her hands on the handlebars, perched on the seat in front of Mei Mei.  I'd be terrified, but for them it is absolutely normal to transport a little one like this.  Often, I've seen families of four or five all riding along a road on one small moped.

Right now, both of Mei Mei's teenage sons have, to her disappointment, stopped attending school.  They stay home much of the time - sleeping irregular hours and watching copious amounts of television, but they both also like to venture out to Internet cafes to play games.  The eldest boy might be found hanging out with other idle friends, but the younger son, an introverted fourteen-year-old, seems happiest in his own company. They are both too young to legally work in factories though the sixteen-year-old has dreams of following a friend to Shanghai as an unskilled migrant worker.  Mei Mei at this point refuses to let him go, knowing he is inexperienced and worrying that he could easily find himself in difficulties.  For now, it's mei ban fa, but surely the boys will soon enough need to find ways to support themselves.

Mei Mei is, naturally, concerned about finances.  For the past few years, she has toyed with the idea of working in a local plastics factory but as her daughter's been so young, it has not been a viable option.  However, now that her little girl is in kindergarten, she thinks about it more and more. It would involve a twelve-hour shift six days a week, something Mei Mei tells me she would not be afraid of at all.  It would certainly help as her husband continues to struggle to make a living selling pork each morning in the marketplace.  They rely heavily upon their own fields and chickens for food. But it is not wise, and Mei Mei deep within knows it.  There's no safety control and she's heard that the chemicals could make her really sick. That they have already harmed other workers' health forever.

Worried about Mei Mei being tempted, a couple of years ago we bought a village house from Mei Mei. It was the house she and her husband had begun to build and wanted to complete when she asked to come to work for us in 2007.  It's useless to us, really, but we knew that finances were overstretched and Mei Mei, unwilling to accept a gift, insisted that we take the house which still stood as an empty concrete block almost ten years after its initial construction. She had never managed to decorate it, living instead no longer on the main street of the town, but in a third home they had erected adjacent to her parents-in-law, another three-storey house of which she has managed to decorate the ground floor only. She used the money we gave to pay off some long-term debts and the rest I suppose went towards other daily expenses.  We kept the transaction secret so that no jealousy would develop amongst other siblings (though deep inside, I know the favouritism's there).  Not even Mama knows.

A few months ago, knowing that money continued to be tight, we started sending a small amount to Mei Mei each month.  In return, she goes over to our newly-built place in laojia once in a while, checks there are no problems, gives the place a clean.  We're fangxin le this way,  knowing that she doesn't need to put herself in harm's way by working in a factory and knowing she can still have time to spend with her daughter after school.  It's no solution to their financial challenges, but it's what we can do.  What we want to do, for I'll eternally feel grateful that when I had no option but to work, she moved over a thousand kilometers to look after my children for me.

I sometimes wonder what the future has in store for Mei Mei.  I suspect her eldest son will find some way to learn a meager living, will find a girlfriend for himself and will, like so many others around him, marry young and start a family of his own.  I expect the younger son will become a quiet loner, unable to connect to others and therefore reliant upon his aging parents.  As for their little girl, I believe she has incredible potential.  I imagine that she will forge her way through childhood, make it against the odds to university, leave the countryside behind, and then, in a Chinese daughter's filial way, ensure that Mei Mei is never left wanting.  And Mei Mei will be ever thankful that she did not hesitate, in spite of her economic difficulties, to open her arms and her heart to another person's daughter on that chilly day in November 2009.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Update on San Jie Jie (Third Sister-in-Law)

Though she still lives in the same street, hings have changed a lot in the past four years for San Jie Jie.  For one, her home has changed.  Like so many others, the urge to build a bigger, more modern home has resulted in a large, three-floor extension behind the simple but adequately-sized two storey home.  As a result, the family now has plenty of room, more than it really needs, including a far more modern kitchen and bathrooms with hot running water.

How have they been able to afford this additional space?  Since losing his job as a migrant worker, San Jie Jie's husband fell into something of a depression.  Neither of them wanted him to go away again, and so San Jie Jie's wealthy younger brother, feeling for them, offered his brother-in-law a job as his construction company's purchasing manager.  This came as a huge relief and provided them with a regular, adequate income as well as a chance to live together again in the hometown with their children.

Quickly, though, each of their children has married.  Not long after their eldest daughter completed her nursing degree, she found a boyfriend and fell in love.  A few months later, she found out she was pregnant and a wedding was quickly arranged.  She never did end up working as a nurse.  Two years later, it was the turn of San Jie Jie's son to get married; his girlfriend, too, found herself expecting and so another wedding took place.  This year, their youngest daughter, now twenty-two, got married on Labour Day.  I saw her a couple of weeks before the wedding and joked that she must be pregnant. Both San Jie Jie and her quiet daughter smiled.  'Mei you,' came the reply, but a couple of weeks after the wedding, I heard the news:  she, too, is expecting.  Her son's wife, is also once again also pregnant. By Spring Festival the baby will have arrived.

San Jie Jie is now kept busy and happy with grandchildren.  I don't think she expected that within three years, she would have five grandchildren, all of whom live within a stone's throw of her home.  In fact, her son and his family live on a floor of the new extension and rely heavily upon San Jie Jie and her husband for childcare and support.  Her daughters are also nearby.

I can't help wondering how many more grandchildren will come along in the next few years.  Sons are definitely desired.  Their eldest daughter's first child was a girl and so she tried again.  If San Jie Jie's younger daughter gives birth to a daughter, no doubt she will also try again until she finally also has a son.  It's funny, I always think, how even the women have such longing for sons, how they can somehow, even in this day and age, think that they need to have boys.  It is evident to me that they love their beautiful little girls and yet, without a boy, families do feel a lack of success, a lack of completion...