sometimes, the lives of my parents feel so much more varied and stronger than mine. not that their lives are more valid, or (i shudder to use the word) "authentic", but they've experienced so much more during their lifetimes than i ever will. they are very strong. our middle class lives are easy and coddled.

my father was born on june 20th, in the small town of peng san, china. it's just outside of shenzhen, across the border from hong kong.

as a child, he'd ride bulls and water buffalo and tried to join the red guard. his mother locked him in the bedroom so he couldn't run away.

at 19 he escaped across the border to hong kong. it floors me that he'd literally risked his life to get out of china - the border was guarded by men with guns.

back then, it was much smaller than it is now. not that it's presently large or modern, by any means. when i visited in the 80s, i was about 8 and my brother 5, there was only 1 running toilet, conveniently located at the house on the top of the hill.

we ate copious quantities of pineapple and other fruits and played at night by knocking sleeping birds out of trees and tying red plastic ribbons to their legs. my brother and i caught grasshoppers to tear apart and feed to a baby bird our cousin had found.

the buildings crowd together and doors have large gaps. bugs are normal and roaches didn't seem to inspire the same amount of fear as they do in the US. walls are streaked and dirty, pictures are pragmatically taped to walls and mirrors - it's all very utilitarian. i remember (and have amusing photographic proof) of myself taking a bath in a bucket of water heated on the stove.

even now, while there are more toilets (manually "flushed" by pouring water from a pot into the toilet bowl; plastic barrels of water are kept in the bathrooms), much is the same. people brush their teeth early in the morning on their porches and rooftops while squatting over a bowl of water.

have you seen the movie 'kung fu hustle'? life in pigsty alley is not far from the truth.

perhaps this paints a dirty picture, but it isn't really that bad. or maybe i'm just used to it?

i had asked anthony for a little blurb of what he thought of our trip, as i'm sure that my family vacation is far different from a regular tourist's approach to china:

i thought that mainland china had a crazy gradient from pseudo-rich city to uber-poor country. the urban centers were way more shallow/hollow feeling, but that could have something to do with the language barrier.

everything felt dirty to me too. and not to sound like some jerk american, it was just a level of dust/smog/grime that was worse in the cities.

i enjoyed it for the most part, though if i had my choice, i'd prefer going to hong kong since there seems to be more pride in that city, say, than shenzhen, which was like some crazy overbuilt set for a movie.


Madge said...

i love this. thank you for sharing!

Michelle said...

Thanks for re-telling your dad's story. I've known it for years, but hearing it again... well, it's amazing all over again!