A few days ago, I was invited to have lunch by one of my oldest friends, who is my Yunnan university colleague. We have been friends since 1984 even though we are of 13 years of age difference. We were both teachers. Each year I visit Kunming, we always have lunches or dinners with other friends.
As usual, we had lunch. He is a learned person and he likes to share his knowledge. He gave me 2 books. One is the autobiography by his mother who is now 83 years old and who also graduated from the same university as us. The other is his own thesis-like book called: “Talent Comes From Education”.
I am more interested in his mother’s autobiography, because I know that his mom is quite one of a kind – an energetic, talkative and mentally very active woman. I went through the pages with photos inside and planned to read it after.
Today, it is very cold and I find myself sitting on the sofa reading the autobiography. It is called: ” My Ordinary Life”, which is not at all ordinary. Any one’s life during her time could never be “ordinary” as China was going through endless big changes from chaos to chaos! Reading the Chinese history through her life from 1945-now- her grand daughter’s time, brings me flashes of my own memory and what my parents told me of that terrible time. If ever you have read the British writer George O’nell’s novel: ” 1984 “, you would have understood what I mean easily, otherwise, you would hardly have any idea how horrible the Revolutions and the Cultural Revolution could be.
The autobiography told in simple ways her life experience. All I can feel is that the protagonist is happy that she survived the tumbling time from a ” bad family background” by doing her best what she was supposed to do as a person who wanted to survive. Her father was one of the important guys who went to study in Japan for 2 years and was working for Mr. Tang Jiyao for years. Mr. Tang was one of Governors General of Yunnan in the 20s and was one of the people who founded Yunnan University. She was born in Japan. As a horrible, yet quite normal consequences, her father committed suicide and also did her uncle who was summoned back from Taiwan by her dad just before 1949 the new China. With all these anti-revolutionaries in her family, she did survive, and not bad at all! Now she has one son, my friend, who is well retired from Yunnan University and one grand daughter who graduated from one of the best Chinese universities in Shanghai and now working in New York and living in New Jersey. I read her pride and that of her son and I am happy for them.
It is all very great to have achieved what she did. Even though the success might be against her will and true nature! Over the lunch, Mr. Zhang, my friend, also told me something very interesting and surprising! His grand father has 13 children including his mom with 2 wives, so he has many cousins. One of his cousins also graduated from Yunnan University and was given a teaching job at a college. The interesting thing is that she resigned about 10 years ago from the Iron-Rice Bowl ( with life insurance, medical care and free housing ) and became a full time Christian believer! Holly cow! It is incredible to believe that as a Chinese and impossible to believe that she as a weak Chinese individual did a thing like that! She talks about Bible, the life of Jesus to friends and families, she does not play Majiang ( a kind of gambling game ) and she travels around the world for her” business”… At the end of my friend’s telling, he commented: ” eh, she is wasted! ” This is such a normal comment that I bet 99% of Chinese would utter, yet it is hard to believe that it comes out from a scholar’s mouth about his own cousin!
From my parents, the schools’ teachings, the party ( communist ) and the society’s intention, any one who does not go into the direction pointed by them, he/she will be labeled as a person wasted! but I admire her truly from the bottom of my heart that she did it against all the people and the society! I am proud of her even having the courage to think about it! I told my friend my opinion about his cousin’s choice and I asked him for a visit of her if it is possible.
China is an old country and a new one at the same time. She has not understood the necessity of encouraging its people to go for their own dreams, different dreams from the MAIN Stream! China is seen as to have opened up since 1991 after Deng Xiao Ping’s visit to Shenzhen, a city close to Hong Kong, nevertheless, real opening up of mind takes painfully a long time. Of course, Chinese have opened their eyes for economy, but not really for spiritual pursue, and not in that many detailed cultural domains. A university professor could still think that having a different choice is wasted, you can imagine many sad stories are still going on between parents and children about different choices…
A closest example is my brother. He decided to drop his medical career to become a professional musician ( singer and guitarist ) about 3 years after graduation in 1991 and 5 years of studies in a Medical University in Cheng Du. He has been a pro musician since 1995, 15 years now. As we know the trend for free-lancer musicians, if they are not picked up by the main stream nation-owned Troupes or entertainment companies to go into commercial side, they will have trouble even in survival! That is the case of my brother. After 15 years of increasing struggles of professional life, travelling between bars and cities, seldom being home with his daughter and wife, his wife left! My parents, his wife and me raised his daughter! My parents often said: ” See, he does not listen to us, so he has been suffering! ” I often regret the fact that his not-well-doing become my parents proof that his choice is wrong! To me, his choice has nothing wrong. People with different choices are usually those who are intelligent and brave! The results are other stories, which are often of complicated and complex reasons!
My parents told me another story. The daughter of one of their friends chose to be a small business owner selling clothes after her university graduation. Her father stopped talking to her ever since. She was even not welcome to go to his home! The father himself is an artist and he wished her to be like him! Well, she did not satisfy his dream and went into another direction, which created the misery of the family for years till now! In the father’s eye, for sure, she is another ” wasted” person!
I have been supporting my brother from the very beginning of his different career and I have done what I can. Not only for the reason that he is my brother, but more for the reason that I would like to see each human-being happy doing what they like, thus our world becomes passionately inventive and innovative! I have been serving as a break for my parents’ discouraging comments about him and his ” hopeless” career and I have been wishing that he, my brother, will be fine, at least feel happy about what he does for life despite of survival problems including psychological pressure from his environment.
My son is in Montreal with me. I had tried very hard to have him there 3 years ago. Instead of sending him directly to University at 18 years old while he was completely qualified according to his schooling and scholar marks, I sent him to Dawson college for 2 years. All of his classmates in China are at the last grade of University or preparing to go on the post-graduate study level while my son is not at University yet! My parents are worried and often said that we ( me and my son ) did not do right and have wasted too much time! I know China and Chinese kids. I know where my son was at spiritually 3 years ago. I wanted to give him a break from this Chinese ” education” and wanted him to wake up from the mundane of not knowing what he wants! I would like him to choose his own road and prepare well for his success later! Talents are usually out there already. It would be great if we can have the eyes to discover them and provide them with suitable growing conditions and environment. I am a stubborn woman who believes that there is no waste materials in construction, but only wrong labeling and miss usage.
I am leaving within 10 days for Montreal. I hope that I can meet this special courageous lady to experience again the pioneer spirit of our race and the courage of the heart! I will remember again how we can be at today because of these intelligent and bold people who opened different roads that may not be smooth, but may be proves that we human beings can be true human-beings by trying not to conform, yet by trying to be different and inventive.