Under-Age Drinking: China’s ‘Germanytown’

architecture germany bldgChinese friends generally say they had their first drink around age 9. There is no drinking age.

So in Qingdao, China, industrial city of 8 million (while teaching this summer at China Petroleum University), in the famous ‘Germanytown’ area, home to Tsingtao beer, I let my 13-year-old drink.
architecturegermany bldg 3Germany controlled this strategic port city , on the Yellow Sea, a quick ferry ride from Korea,  from about 1900 through the Second World War. They bequeathed their love of beer, visible in kegs stacked at every corner store. About 100 German stone mansions remain, many on winding, tree-lined, hilly seaside roads.

kegs in qingdao.qingdao on map2

Germans built the Tsingtao Beer brewery in 1903,  now (modernized) China’s top brewer & beer exporter (85% market share). Chinese tourists love Qingdao’s beach, cool sea breezes, beer and seafood (we avoided it–sadly…too much industrial effluence in these waters). About a year ago, the world’s longest over-sea bridge opened here (26 miles).architecture tsingtaotanksWhile historic Chinese vernacular architecture is constantly lost, (admittedly, it’s wooden), Qingdao preserves its German heritage (stone construction helps?). Maybe it’s an undue reverence for Western things.
architecturegermanmansion

Some are museums; some are hotels; some apparently are Party resorts, offices–holiday residences? We had wienerschnitzel at the one above, the largest, a museum.

architecturegermany bldg2architecture germany church2I mistakenly let my kid have a whole bottle of beer the first time. Insight: being 6’1″  will not keep a person who has no tolerance from getting way too drunk. I downgraded to a regular-size glass at a banquet with the dean, where he made a kind of awkward spectacle by going on and on about Ai Wei Wei. Then we moved to teeny tiny glasses, which works. I think it has successfully de-mystified beer.

kenny with a beer

architecturegermany bldg1

architecture germanycoastIn Qingao’s waves, they say, swimmers resemble dumplings floating in a pot. (The red at the water’s edge in the photo above is rocks, where people gather edible shellfish.)

architecture mr lis

This German building houses the omnipresent northeastern Chinese chain restaurant, Mr. Li’s (a Chinese-American version of the KFC ‘Colonel… I hear he lives in California). We find Mr. Li’s  food watery and bland, but love this building.

No beer for sale.

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“You Can Call Me ‘Mr. Wong’ “

kenny with hisBeats by Dr DreThere is no photo of ‘Mr. Wong.’ Not his real name.

He does have a business card (black). Black card, black market.

His stall in Qingdao‘s largest indoor flea market sells counterfeit electronics. China, yes it’s true, is home to rampant illegal trade in counterfeit goods. Violating copyright is illegal & I’m totally against it. But — yes. My son bought some fake beats by Dr. Dre headphones in China. They retail in the U.S. for $250. Worn around the neck, I am told, beats are the ultimate (middle school) status symbol.

At his market stall, “Mr. Wong” said he’s got “real” ones. They will run you RMB850 (about $120). What he calls “class C” copies will run you RMB150 (about $20–choose from red, black or white). He also has what he calls “class A copies” that will run you about $60. You can listen to the difference, feel the leather vs. plastic. They were indistinguishable to me. (Apparently there is no class B copy.)

I actually think “Mr. Wong” made up this A/B/C copy classification system so we’d pay $60 for the $20 ones…(but who knows?)

He ships to America, he says.

He sells without U.S.-to-China customs fees/import tax: they come from Canada, he says. Uh, that makes sense… (?)

My Qingdao business students wrote, one night this summer, on “Will China move from copycat to global high-tech power” and if so, when and how? We discussed a new ebook, excerpted here (“Beta China: The Dawn of an Innovation Generation,” by Hamish McKenzie, a PandoDaily contributor). McKenzie is very optimistic about China’s emerging high-tech future, citing the success of (cult) mobile handset maker Xiaomi, which makes China’s homegrown answer to the iPhone and is run by 43-year-old Lei Jun, called “China’s Steve Jobs.”

Students’ consensus: China is great. So it will get beyond copycat to real tech leaership. But first, they wrote, education has to change, to nurture creativity rather than memorization. And some wrote, too, that financing (start-up funding) and legal mechanisms (copyright protection) — basic manufacturing infrastructure — must mature, to fund and protect inventors.

The students all seemed to conclude that there’s reason for optimism, but China also has a long way to go.

 

Start the Day Right (Chinese Food)

Canteen windows: breakfast variety

Canteen windows: breakfast variety

We have cold cereal, yogurt & fruit, maybe an egg, bagel. French toast or pancakes on week-end. Breakfast isn’t very varied. Love it but — I’m saying, it’s not that involved. Totally different story in China. We were strictly using the university canteen (cafeteria) in Qingdao this summer, having no kitchen. Breakfast choices were just as varied as dinner, with more than a dozen windows, each totally different. Soup with beans or greens or noodles, buns, dumplings, all kinds of meat, breads, vegetables, eggs and lots of kinds of pickles, & much more.

Fried little buns, like a savory beignet

Fried little buns, like a savory beignet

Unfortunately, first sight entering the canteen is the slop tables, ladies scraping food garbage into giant stainless steel pails. Not a great image! But the ladies are lovely! Below, a few pix of soup, dumplings & breakfast in a Chinese university.

Canteen ladies, China Petroleum University

Canteen ladies, China Petroleum University

Breakfast wontons (hwin dun)

Breakfast wontons (hwin dun)

Canteen tables, China Petroleum University, Qingdao

Love the dumplings!

Love the dumplings!

Grab your chopsticks

Grab your chopsticks

 

Morning soups

Morning soups

Economic-Development Zone Bike Tour

We have been living in Huadong, a suburb of Qingdao on the bay letting out to the sea –officially an “economic development zone.” I’ve been all over China and have never seen this many skyscraper apartments going up. Mile after mile, some super-fancy with the German-esque follies/details (red rooves, cottage brown stripes) that reference Qingdao’s German colonial past. It’s also home (slightly inland) to massive factory after factory campus, including Haier, which I think makes large appliances like air conditioners.

“Development” means factories, in my students’ argot. Development in my lingo means things like health, education, as well as infrastructure. Here it really doesn’t have that overtone of human development.

SO we took an economic development zone bike tour along the coast, where landscaping of flowering trees, promenades(including a “movie star walk of fame) and exercise machines stretch for miles. s the zone hasn’t finished developing — the buildings are mostly empty, my university only opened this campus a couple of years ago — it’s totally empty. On the horizon are ships and factory stacks. And along the coast,  clammers and fishermen with nets.

fisherman boatsclammers in the smog

God forbid eating shellfish here; sorry, Qingdao. It goes on and on; we’re not the fastest riders but not slow either and this is two hours’ riding  — it just doesn’t stop.

Here’s what it looks like.

Kenny on Huangdao Promenade

Kenny on Huangdao Promenade

mod swervy buildings

keny and buildings

Rent-a-tandem (we didn't)

Rent-a-tandem (we didn’t)

weird red landscaping

The Rape of Nanking, Remembered

Massacre Musuem, Nanjing

Massacre Museum, Nanjing

China has its Yad Vashem. Nanjing’s Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre is experiential architecture. You are funneled through tight spaces, traped in black granite chutes. (Architect Qi Kang is one of the leading figures in Chinese architecture).

Exterior, memorial hall to the victims of the Nanking Massacre

Exterior, memorial hall to the victims of the Nanking Massacre

It’s an immersion in nationalism and grief. And most noticeably, in insistence — there hasn’t been widespread acceptance that the massacre here in 1937 occurred — particularly by the right-wing in Japan, which denies the massacre vehemently, including in court, and has attacked (even murdered) those who’d tell their stories. Such as remorseful Japanese veterans, whose testimony is moving here. And Chinese memoirists, sued for libel.

nanking rape 300000

This is the “wall of witnesses” — as if they need to be documented as much as the victims.

Wall of witnesses

Wall of witnesses

You ponder the monstrousness that overtook invading soldiers, who gang raped and then mutilated — the bestial madness, and the uniquely vicious victimization of women (estimated 20,000 rapes, from children to the elderly). And then one thinks of Japan. I’ve spent a few weeks there, and love so much about it. Not to dwell on cliches but there’s no denying the often exquisite aesthetic and manners and cleanliness and love for beauty and so many cultural heights. And then you struggle to comprehend what occurred in this dark time.

Kenny in Peace Park, outside Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, Nanjing

Kenny in Peace Park, outside Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, Nanjing

And one thinks: The day will come when China honors the victims of its own (domestically perpetrated) atrocities.

And the day will come when the U.S. does.

Nanjing massacre hall Japanese solidarity

Nanjing massacre hall Japanese solidarity

Many Japanese figures — authors, industrialists, and trade unions (and presumably the Communist Party, on the plaque pictured above) have expressed solidarity, memorialized and honored the victims. A manufacturing family gathers flower seeds from Nanjing and has planted them all over Japan in an act of honoring the victims.

One last haunting aspect: I read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, a breakthrough book that for perhaps the first time really told the story, as late as 1997 (compare that to Holocaust commemoration.). Her book recapitulates (and enlarges) the museum’s messages, reproducing many of its photos and testimonies. Chang, a Chinese-American journalist from the midwest, committed suicide a few years ago at the age of 36. And another heroine of this place– known as the Living Buddha of Nanking, American missionary Minnie Vautrin, a girls’ school director in wartime Naning who protected and hid tens of thousands of innocent civilians, also (after returning home to Illinois after the war) took her own life.

Some things are too great to bear.

(The Vautrin link above is to the extensive Yale Univ archives on the massacre, the most important repository of its kind.

Peace.

Look Who’s Here in Qingdao: Einstein

Einstein statue; China University of Petroleum Qingdao

Einstein statue; China University of Petroleum Qingdao

Look who we found at our university: Albert Einstein.

This is in keeping with the Jews-in-China theme we’ve pursued on our blog. My students, during conversation hour every day before dinner, are always excited to hear I’m Jewish. “All Jews are smart” is the reigning stereotype. It is closely followed by the more pernicious ones about secret all-powerful cabals controlling banks. Both of them scare me and I try to talk them through it.

 

A far, far less august and world-historic Jewish person was seen on a big, red banner; she was honored to give a talk to the MBAs last weekend.

Jill Hamburg Coplan and something apparently about me giving a lecture one night to the MBAs

Jill Hamburg Coplan and something apparently about me giving a lecture one night to the MBAs

Writing in English, Wishing for Reform

My students, writing.

My students, writing.

 

Last time I taught liberal arts types in Beijing at a famously liberal university. Here we are in a province (Shandong, central coastal China) in an engineering school and my students are in either public administration or one of many busines majors (accounting, finance, international trade, management). Lest we think only the urbane Beijingers are reform-minded, here is a bit of one student’s first paper for me:

“I want to be a government leader, wher I can take powers to reform our political system. As we all know, there are many problems in our country politic area, such as democracy deficit, freedom restricted, civil rights violtions. Our Chinese democracy is not complete.”

PS We have very sporadic internet and VPN. LIkely to blog less than we would wish.

 

 

(Some) Coplans (Soon) in China

QingdaoNightThis is Qingdao at night. Beer lovers, yes: Tsingtao. It was once controlled for a few years (was a “concession”) by Germans. It’s on the ocean, about between Shanghai and Beijing, in the prosperous province of Shandong. The air is good, for China.

In our 10 months back in the U.S., we felt a bit guilty calling this blog Coplans IN China. But now (visas in hand as of an hour ago) we can safety say half of our family is returning to China  for a bit more than a month (in July). Kenny and I will be living in Qingdao at China University of Petroleum (CUP) .

I will teach business students international communications. Kenny, my young translator, will be kindly provided with a Mandarin tutor, and he also hopes to improve his ping pong and pick-up basketball.

He also wants to do week-end visits to cities we missed: Hangzhou and Nanjing (and possibly also Suzhou; our visit was so brief it almost wasn’t).

Other goals: Reconnecting & reaffirming bonds with friends and colleagues, especially while passing through Beijing, to set up the basis for future collaborative teaching. And (for Kenny) to — during the last 5ish days — get to Wudang Shan, the holy mountain most powerfully pulling on him, where we never made it.

More news when we’ve got it.

Meanwhile here is a picture of Kenny last year this time, giving a farewell speech, in Mandarin, to my students at a reception organized by my then-supervisor who runs the MA program in communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the wonderful Qiao Mu.

MVI_8229

An American Boy in China (watch video)

Adventures of a third grader in Beijing for a year. All about having fun in China, the land and its geography, history and politics, and visiting China’s different regions and peoples. Do shadow puppetry, ride a camel in the Gobi, make dumplings on a farm, and cheer for the Guoan (World Peace) soccer team.

Cow Pussy, & Other Mandarin Mysteries

Fabulously, Evaline Chao (byline: “a freelance writer based in New York City”) yesterday wrote a great piece of cultural translation — a philological analysis where we learn the layers of meaning embedded in new words in Chinese — for Foreign Policy:From House Slaves to Banana People – Seven new words that explain modern China.

Evaline Chao is author of Niubi: The real chinese you were never taught in school, which I’m going to buy for my son. (Philology is on my mind partly after seeing  the Israeli drama, “Footnote” (2011 foreign Oscar nominee) or הערת שוליים‎, He’arat Shulayim, which is all about how powerful it becomes to delve into a word’s meaning.) Chao’s book, the opening pages of which are readable online !,   precisely unpack, I’m delighted to say, TWO of our big life-in-China mysteries.
(1)  soccer vulgarity, which we pondered in “Dirty Words Football,” featuring tiny tots screaming “Vagina”
and
(2) repulsively inflated sheep carcasses — which we blogged about after almost vomiting at them in Lanzhou, at the edge of the Gobi. Evaline enlightens on page one:

“Cow Pussy, Yes, Cow Pussy

Let’s begin with…cow pussy. Or rather niubi (nyoo bee), which literally translates to “cow pussy” but means “fuckin’ awesome” or “badass” or “really fuckin’ cool.” Sometimes I means something more like “big” and “powerful,” and sometimes it can have the slightly more negative meaning of “bragging” or “braggart” or “being audacious,” but most of the time it means “fuckin’ awesome.”

The etymology of niubi is unknown…Some say the idea is that a cow’s pussy is really big, so things that are similarly impressive are called cow cunts. Others say that it stems from the expression chui niupi (chway nyoo pee), which literally translates to “blow up ox hide” and also connotes bragging or a braggard (someone who can blow a lot of hot air). In fact, the word for bragging is the first part of that phrase, chuiniu (chway nyoo). Once upon a time (an dyou can still see this done today in countries like Pakistan) — NOTE: ALSO IN NORTHWEST CHINA ON YELLOW RIVER– people made rafts out of animal hides that had to be blown up wit air so they would float. Such an activity obviously required one mights powerful set of lungs…”

More Great Student Journalism

Writers Workshop, my apt

If you’re unmarried at 27, you’re a “leftover lady” – Reese explores this ridiculous problem in the third and last batch of student final pieces, (the first batch here) presented aloud at my apt, over lunch. For a look at some parents’ alarmed, creative reaction to their kids potentially being leftover, we travel with Jolie (and in a related piece, Natalie) to Matchmaker’s Park, a well-done tale (she’s even recruited as good bride material). THose poor, anxious parents stand for hours with placards advertising their children to other anxious parents.

Jolie

Natalie

Lucia told the story of an NGO founded by China’s  leading, pioneering investigative journalist Wang Keqing, who sometimes teaches in this department, to help miners and other impoverished Chinese industrial workers with black lung disease. Some on staff were initially persecuted, for embarrassing the government. The NGO is one of few–it’s a new and uncertain area of China’s nascent, still-beleaguered civil society. Happily, it recently got on the government’s good side, and a few celebrities have lined up for a big fundraiser this month.

Aileen takes us on a journey through her feelings of patriotism and yet demand for information about her home that she loves,  China, on a trip into the troubled Tibetan area, Qinghai. She seeks to explore the unrest (while translating for a journalist from India), and must grapple with being accused by security forces, at every step, of being a traitor.

Aileen journeyed to Tibetan Qinghai

Susan looks at Confucius Institutes (from her days earlier this year interning in NYC), particularly the one at Pace University, and realizes the U.S. students there are learning more about Peking Opera, silk, calligraphy and classical poetry than she knows, as a devoted English student. She determines, then, to rediscover her own culture.

Susan

Laura shows us why Christianity, despite the hype and worry, won’t catch on in China. We see her quit, after too much uncomfortable touchie-feelie hugging and what feels like too much fake saying “I love you.”

Cynthia shows us a migrant laborer who founded a hotline to help others, a well-drawn bio piece about a modern-day hero.

Susan Yu takes us inside student union election politics – a microcosm for Party politics, and urges change towards a more truly democratic process.

In a

Susan Yu

nother great piece, we see how Chinese senior citizens, displaced from the center and their old communities by Beijing’s rampant, outward, horizontal growth pattern, are now being accused of clogging up mass transit when they travel back to their favorite old spots at rush hour.

Cynthia

And Guanlin tells the story of life as a Beijing public toilet cleaner who actually lives inside a stall, with his wife and grandchild.

Liya wrote about Beijing’s oldest foreign-owned small business, run by China’s original British hipster.

Stimulating Discussion With Chinese Students

The campus cats. Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Some of these tips I got on arrival, from Fulbright meetings. Other later in my time here. A lot didn’t work. Below is what did. The custom is, teacher’s right/students listen & regurgitate later. Much has been written about how frustrating this is to American lecturers, here and at U.S. colleges (where, sometimes, language proficiency or fraudulent applications may be at fault). There are solutions.

Distribute questions a week in advance to a group. The group prepares the answers. The “discussion” (group presentation) occurs at a planned time.

This didn’t suit a reporting & writing course. They reported and wrote almost every week. Instead, I gave a quiz on the rare non-reporting, non-writing weeks, to ensure they used that week to get caught up with the past month or so’s reading. After the quiz was a reasonably good time for discussion; everyone was ‘on the same page.’

Explain that they need the skill of being able to discuss material, to be transnational. Explain that it’s required in the U.S. classroom, from middle school onward. Lay out the expectation the first day that every student is expected to speak in class, and that to challenge the teacher is considered polite. That questions don’t imply I haven’t done a thorough teaching job.

Unless the students had done a semester abroad, or was naturally extroverted, this had no impact. By the end, I’ve imparted a living sense of a different student-teacher relationship–more actively engaged (if not quite Socratic), more ‘democratic’ and hands-on and debate-oriented. But it’s a slow build, not something you can create in a day.

Call on students randomly.

This worked poorly.

–Go around the room, one by one.

This also worked poorly. Many students were unprepared, unwilling, too nervous, got stage fright & lost their fluent English.

Ask a question. Break up into pairs for discussion. Let one of the pair represent their thoughts aloud.

This might work. I broke into groups of 4 or 5. Sometimes we had a good exercise. The problems were 1) I gave too much time to prepare; 5 minutes would be good but I probably gave 10+, so it devolved into a chat-fest. And 2) the same old gregarious, extroverted, most-fluent students would be speaking, as always.

Here is what worked for me:

Explain the purpose of student-teacher individual conferences, and then pass out a weekly sign-up list. I made coming in mandatory, at least once. Many students came a lot. I had 4 hours/week set aside for conferences (most weeks), at my kitchen table. Discussing, tutoring, mentoring, relationship-building all much easier in this informal setting.

Class lunches. This was strongly recommended by Fulbright, as a key part of our We’re-Not-Your-Typical-Foreign-Expert approach. Great tradition. Class leader would reserve one big table (7-9 students), almost every week. Rotated around until everyone (nearly 90 students this year) participated. They ordered so I learned about a lot of good foods, too. Guest speakers sometimes joined, or other faculty, which was extra great.  Informal setting meant no one was on stage so there wasn’t stage fright or the other problems. Only downside was, had to regularly remind everyone to use English, so we could get to know one another better.

–Distribute a ‘self-evaluation sheet’ the day a piece is due, and discuss after they’ve filled it out. Got this idea from a Chinese professor. Students use this ‘quiz’ to evaluate their work (which they have in hand, in hard copy), against the techniques/skills/theories contained in the latest readings. After they’re done, it’s all fresh in mind, they’ve had a critical, analytical half hour with the material, they’re called on to share aloud the result of their self-evaluation.

BFSU Main Building spring 2012

Lecture-Circuit Lessons

Lecture trip - Urumqi


I’d never “lectured”–teaching doesn’t count. Fulbright requires it, to spread widely whatever we know. I’m on a tear while David (through April) covers at home. When not traveling or teaching my own 60 students–grading-arm cramp!!–I just sleep. (Or watch Breaking Bad, our post-Downton Abbey obsession.)


I’m grateful for the challenge: Figuring out what I could offer a given group, & packaging it right. In Urumqi, the far-western capital of Xinjiang province (of Turkic, and other minorities, bordering Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan), I talked to a College of Foreign Languages that doesn’t have one native English speaker on faculty. I also lectured to ed majors there–future English teachers. The ad was a crazy big 10-foot billboard!

The hall of 250 filled. It was optional, so apparently they value the topics, communicating better in written and spoken English (with lots of Q&A). I also donated journalism books, in a nice ceremony. Shipped by the State Department, donated by New York friends in publishing. English journalism textbooks are impossible to come by here. Too subversive.


It’s a huge blessing reaching people who want, need what we have to give. And of course getting, in return, the connection — “Only connect” — across culture, language, the globe, and the rising, angry superpower-rival ignorance and blind prejudice (See: Mike Daisey). (Had we a basic level of respect, understanding, accurate information, our many legitimate human-rights criticisms would have far more power and credibility.)

Another lecture was at Shanghai’s University of Finance & Economics, for all their economic journalism MA students. Lecturing is an intensely focused few hours, almost performative. Afterwards we take pictures.

I really appreciate what journalism gives us–at the intersection of news, economics, the digital revolution, language, communication. My Shanghai talks were ‘Future of News,’ and ‘Why Business Journalists Missed the Financial Crisis.’ Yeah — 20/20 hindsight, shooting ducks in a barrel. Still, juicy.

The Bund

David came. It was a whirlwind day and a half.


Coming next: lectures in coastal Qingdao (of beer fame–Germany’s old concession), Guangzhao (1.5 hours from Hong Kong; I’ll bring the boys), and possibly elsewhere. Fulbright organizes many invitations.
I’m also guest lecturing around Beijing’s universities, and at the embassy’s cultural/education office (the Beijing American Center–the nice tables below). Last night: For scholars hoping to get into U.S. grad schools, on writing their personal statements (a foreign concept here!). The next will be better English writing for Chinese businesspeople. Huge demand.

Back at my own university, we’ve begun (nearly) weekly class lunches at the faculty canteen, where I can host a banquet for 10 for about $30. Another time for sharing, interaction, in an informal setting to break through their classroom shyness. Knowing I love and miss my garden, they gave me a teeny potted plant seedling — one delicate stem with 3 tiny leaves.

A good metaphor for our relationship, we Chinese and Americans.

Love Without A Name: Growing Up in China

One of my students writes about his grandmother, “an illiterate Chinese farmer [who] nurtured three generations of intellectuals.” At 15, she had an arranged marriage with a boy who was then a toddler. It has emotional power, to me, but I was also struck by other students’ response while workshopping: ‘We all have grandmothers who helped raise us, and we don’t know their names.’ I realize this is common (I remember an Amy Tan essay about this very subject.) Still, I believe them when they said: This story of generational change is all of our story, of growing up in China today.

Excerpts from a memoir.
The writer uses the English name David.

…She silently cooked the dishes, did the laundry and fed the pigs. … My grandpa, who turned out to be a village teacher, treated her nicely, but it all didn’t matter. He died at the age of 39, leaving her a shattered family with two teenage boys to feed.

None of my relatives from the old countryside could recall a single complaint from her. Year after year, my grandmother labored with sweat in the field, bending down to reap the wheat and corn…. When my father hesitated whether or not he should stop trying after failing twice in the College Entrance Examination, my grandmother simply gave him a powerful slap in the face. Illiterate as she was, she understood that those tiny yet enchanted characters printed on the paper would shape his destiny. When my father finally got admitted to a college, granny sold a pig and treated everyone in the village for a feast.

… After my parents’ marriage she took care of me when my father was determined to make a decent living for our poor family. I remember two scenes: my grandmother in the kitchen opening the pot lid from time to time for fear that the cheap ribs might burn, and warmly comforting my mother, who came from a local urban family, as she complained in tears about why she chose to follow this man. Toward me, she showed kindness. She taught me patiently with a strong rural accent the country ballads about fairies and heroes, and clumsily made toys like wood pistols to give me joy.

…I moved out to an expensive boarding school, a rebellious adolescent. When I returned home, I tended to keep away from this old, shabby, short, humpbacked lady. The exciting flame in her eyes vanished after I apathetically answered her greetings several times. She became more and more silent and spent all days watching TV and gazing at the sky. But she never complained to anyone.

One day I returned home and learned she was in the ICU. All my arrogance and stupidity went away in an instant, and I bit hard on my lips to hold back my tears of remorse. Peering at a piece of paper gripped in my anxious father’s hand, tears flooded my face.

It read: ‘Patient’s name: Feng Qishi.’

Feng was my family name, Qi was her family name, shi refers to the status of being married. Like millions of women of her age, for 60 years of hardships she didn’t have a name.