May 30, 2013

"Qingwen" - A Children's Day Memory

Chinese children
Chinese children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Caution! I tried my best but some of description of physical abuse can be disturbing for some people.)
(This is a translation of my Chinese essay with the same title.)


I don't usually celebrate June First - the international children's day. However this year seems to be a little different, I've been thinking about one of my childhood friend: "Qingwen", and like to write an article about him. I don't remember what his family name was, nor how to spell his name in Chinese characters, because I have not seen him again since I was 5 and half year old, and for all these years, or decades I should say, he was totally absent fromn my life. Now, as Chidren's Day is coming, he suddenly came back to my mind.

When I was 4 or 5 year-old, both of my parents were too busy (working "for Communist Party and the Country") to take care of me, so I was sent to a temporary foster family. It was not so temporary though, I lived with the family at least 2 years. The family name was "Guo". Mrs. Guo was an old lady and everyone called her "Mother Guo", I called her "grandma". Even though non of my grandparents were alive upon the time I was born, I felt "Mother Guo" was indeed my grandma. Mr. Guo - to whom I called "grandpa"-  also treated me kindly, so did all their children, who were all much older than me. I received plenty of love in this family and I felt more attach to them than to my own parents. Though overall my childhood was dark, the years I lived with this family was bright, except one shadow, which was Qingwen.

Qingwen was a son of a single father, who lived next door to Mother Guo. He was about the same age as me, or probably slightly younger. I cannot remember how he looked like, nor what kind of games we played together, but it doesn't matter, because what I am going to write, is not his biography, but the only memory he left in my mind: a child who was abused terribly by his own father.

Mother Guo's house was a in one-floor building complex, in which 3 families resided. Guos was in the middle, contained multiple rooms, which was a luxury at the time. On the left side, was Pens' family, whose youngest daughter was my best friend; on the right side, was Qingwen's home. His home had only one room. None of our friends visited his house, occasionally we would take a "sneak peek" of inside from the door, it was dark and lifeless. I could remember seeing a messy and dirty bed, a table, a few chairs, and some random items scattered on dirty ground. Qingwen's father was a blue laborer, I don't remember what kind of job he did, all I remember was one of his eyes was blind, and he was always drunk.

It seemed that Qingwen's father went to work everyday, left his son alone at home. So Qingwen played with us sometime. When his father came back late afternoon, if he was in good mood, Qingwen would be OK, but if not, Qingwen would get beaten up for no reasons at all. Usually the "father" used some sort of bamboo stick slash son's hand, but in "severe" cases, a hot red metal fire rod would be "necessary". We often heard crying from next door, but it seemed to be "normal", and it was no body's business. I don't remember how many times when I passed his house, saw Qingwen was tied up on a tree in front of his house, crying alone, looked at me in despair. I also remember, not only once probably, when I passed their door, I saw his father using a red fire rod to slash his bare feet. The "father" was yelling something, and when his voice raised up, the red fire rod would land on Qingwen's naked skin. Qingwen was jumping around with unimaginable pain, and screaming. I also remember that he always screamed before the fire rod touched him, with that unspeakable fear, and when it touched on his skin his scream was simply just louder, probably loudest he could make. He must wanted to escape, but he had certainly nowhere to go, also he was ordered not to, so all he could try was few square feet area, jumping back forth like a crazy little animal.

I often saw Qingwen was tied on tree, but never saw his father torturing him while he was tied. Qingwen was beaten always while he had his hands and feet "free", and no matter how much pain he suffered, he always stay in the same spot after jumping or crying, "voluntarily" gave his father's "job" the most "convenience". His father sometime even could sat comfortably, made his son creaming and jumping by easy lifting of his arm (How powerful was that!). Years later I realized, that tying Qingwen on the tree was actually for another kind of "convenience" - the "father" often went out (probably to buy liquor), but he did not want his son making "trouble", and did not want to bother neighbors, so the easiest solution for such "problem" was tying his son up.

Probably because back then there was no ventilate system inside houses, people would put their stove - the old fashioned coal stove - outside of house. For a few times, I (together with some of my playmates, I guess) stole the fire rod from stove, either put it in water, or threw away. That might be the only help Qingwen received from people, and obviously, it did not help him much. For after all these years, the only memory jumps into my mind, was still his despair expression in his eyes when he was tied on the tree, watching me passed by quietly.

Though there was Qingwen's misery, I was too young to understand the kind of misery he suffered. My life in Guo's family overall was happy, everyday so many fun things to play with. It was later, after I had similar experience, after I acknowledged what child abuse was, how it would traumatize one's life, I started thinking Qingwen again, started imagining what kind of horror he lived with daily.

Qingwen was not at all an unusual case in China. Regardless my own experience, many of my friends and schoolmates were severely abused. For example, one of my high school friends was often threatened to be "thrown out" from family, often got beaten with no reasons, and once was almost strangled to death by her mother; one of my classmate in elementary school was not only beaten by his father often, but also "treated" by pliers (how his father used this device we could only imagine); in the school my parents taught (where I grew up), one of professors tied his son and hung him up, then beat him. However, all these cases, include Qingwen's, would be considered as "merciful" if compared with the one that happened in 90s of last century - which was only less than 20 years ago - in Qing Hai province, a girl whose name was Su Li, was tortured by her own mother for years (beyond any sane human beings can imagine) until her young life could not bare any more. She died at age of six.

I often don't understand why so many Chinese people are so "unfamiliar" with the terms and behaviors of "child abuse", as if this kind of crime is some "particular production" of Western society (a Chinese lady I know literally told me so), just because they "invented" this term. Are they blind? Or they are just numb about life, don't think children could feel? I personally would say, with just a little exaggeration, that the entire history of Chinese morality is a history of child abuse. Sounds extreme, right? If you think so, you may be interested in reading "24 Filial Piety examples", or1994 the fire accident in Karamay, Xingjiang province. Yes, in the past and present history of China, children have been something "spendable", for some "higher moral purpose", or for any purposes.

LuXun in the 1930
LuXun in the 1930 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After I entered middle age, I wrote lots of essays (in Chinese) about child abuse in China, about how it is connected with Chinese tradition, especially "filial piety". But writing this short post, I do not mean to do the same kind of "rational thinking", rather, I want to have an emotional touch on my far lost memory, to remind myself, and hopefully others, that this kind of experience, though better be forgotten by its sufferers, should never be forgotten by society, because only when a society recognizes the existences of such abuses, defines them as crimes, it can start rebuilding a new environment for children to grow healthily.

I am not a racist, nor a nationalist, but I would still like to dedicate this post to Chinese children, because they have been suffering too much for too long, and their suffering has been always overlooked, covered up, forgotten, even justified by so called "cultural tradition".

Remember Qingwen, remember Su Li, "Save the children!" (Lu Xun)

*1994, in Xingjiang province

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May 26, 2013

My Love&Hate Relationship With Art - A Memoir of A "Professional" Artist

Recently I spent some serious money to frame several paintings I did long time ago (some of them over 20 years ago). As a person who claimed "disliking 'art' intensely" , I found myself enjoying seeing those paintings with frames - they seemed more complete, and even more "expensive". While I looked at them with appreciation, I could not help pondering my life as an "artist" - my "love and hate" relationship with "art".

Two of my old paintings in frames
(painted over 10 years ago).
For years, I had been feeling uncomfortable to be called as an "artist", especially when it meant "professional artist". The reasons were complicated and manifold, yet tangled with deep emotional traumas. But to simply put, I would say first of all, as a person who has extremely wide range of interests, doing art full time means nothing else but "torture"; secondly, art as career was not my own choice, but my parents; finally, probably most importantly, I do not believe art as a creativity should be a profession.

When I was a child, I liked to draw just like any other kids did. My parents both were teachers (or "professors", as we call it in this country) in a well known art college in China. I started to draw quite "formally" when I was in about 6 or 7 grade, but still mostly just for fun. Then suddenly, at age of 12, my parents made a big decision to me, that instead of going to normal high school, I should go to art high school (the one that was attached to the art college they worked). I obeyed them without any thinking, just like I had been hitherto doing due to their absolute authority. In school I was a bright kid and excelled in almost every course, if I could've waited later, until I graduated from normal high school, I could have much more choices, but at the age of 12, I had no ideas about the seriousness of career choice. It was until years later that I realized that was such a fatal mistake of my life path, and if I could have a chance to go back to redo it myself, I would be willing to sacrifice anything just for that chance. I still remember one of teachers in middle school said to me during class, personally, with a low but clear voice: "we all think it's a mistake that if you go to art high school." (How I wished he was my father!) Nonetheless, after finishing middle school, I passed exams and enrolled in that special art high school. Thus my art career began.

Two oil paintings I made over 20 years
Later, I found that in this special high school, not only 60% of time I had to draw or paint all those boring things like a robot, but also I lost opportunity to study many other subjects that I once enjoyed in middle school. Since I was a naturally curious person, I found studying in this school was a completely waste of time. So 4 years later, after graduating from this high school, I fought against my parents, trying not to continue my art education. But my parents "violently" suppressed my "revolt", and consequently, I involuntarily went to art college. Upon this time, I still yet to know how difficult my life would be in future due to this choice of "art".

In art college. I was the only girl in the 
photo. (Of ocourse, if you can figure
out which one is a girl. :-))
It would be a lie if I said that I did not have fun in art college. On the first day of my college "education", I decided that I should enjoy it. And I did, though not necessarily in classes. My parents worked at the same school, but I was not majored in their fields, and I lived in dormitory, so they did not have much control over me. I enjoyed lots of free time due to the super easy school curriculum. The college that I considered as "trashy" did not give me knowledge my curiosity craved, but nurtured my free spirit to its full scale - reading books by my own choices, making friends, falling in love, drinking, smoking (yes, I was definitely one of - possibly the first - pioneer girls who smoke cigaretts "openly" in "modern" China!) and wandering, even worse - escaping dozens dozens of classes, I was a true "hippie" at the time.

I did not "hate" art back then. As matter of fact, I had my fun time with art. Also because I was young, I was totally confident about my future, believed that I was fully capable of correcting the mistake my parents made to me. It was not until 20 years later that I realized I totally overestimated my ability to fight against fate.

Career change is not a super difficult thing to do, but it could be somehow different if you were majored in special field such as art at an early age. And if later your life had to start from scratch as a immigrant without any supports, things can be a little "tough". Even though I made my primary goal to change my career when I came to USA, after fighting battles after battles, years later, I found I still had to make living by doing art professionally, either computer artist, or portrait artist. And another giant obstacle which I never foresaw was, after I entered middle age, at the time I finally settled in new country, ready to prepare for some "real" changes, my health slid straight down to a never-ending chronic condition, which made a simple daily routine tasks like a mammoth achievement. Little by little, I found my "dream" vanished away beyond my reach, I fell into despair and tasted a complete failure of life.

It was during this period of time, both my "hatred" toward art and my resentment to my parents were intensified. Though I probably smile to show gratitude, but inside my heart, I almost took every compliment given to me for my art as a justification of my parents' "wrong doing", and a denial of my other talents, intelligence, or the "true" value of my life.

However, as many people usually did at the "dead end", the turning point also came to me during my most desperate moment. One day in the mall, standing in front of my portrait business location, after receiving one of endless compliments to my works, I suddenly realized, that the compliments meant to give to me, not my parents. I realized, the reason I did so well in art had almost nothing to do with my parents' choice, but everything to do with my own talent. Since then, I learned to give credit to myself, and by doing so, I felt easier to face the reality. Even though later I still had lots of homework to do, but it was specifically since that moment, I made peace with art.

Dear Frida, oil on canvas, 22x28
painted over 10 years ago.
Still, making peace with art only mean I did not resent it anymore, but it didn't mean I would feel good to live with it everyday. 2 years later, I finally found my "refugee" in art teaching, a job that I don't have to actually do or sell any art works, but only interacting with my students. This is by far the easiest job I ever had, and the large amount of free time makes me felt that I finally found what I really fought for: freedom.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that art should not be a profession. So fundamentally, no matter my parents did or not, I would never choose to be a professional artist. I think that from the first day when art was born in human history, it did not meat to be a "profession". For me, art is nothing more than a natural expression of personal feeling. It is inspirational, refreshing and unrepeatable. Unfortunately in human society, "professional art" became something else, something technically reproducible, something can be valued by money, something in demand in market business. Art market has been commercialized beyond reasonable (especially in current China). It is a place not only dealing with art and money, but hypocrisy, vanity and greed. It is a place where.passion can be, or has to be pretentious and priced. Art, the most intimate and friendly activity of life, was alienated, "sanctified" as something far above life. Certainly, from the beginning of my "art career", I found I was a total stranger to this "professional art" world.

Looking back, I am proud that I had fought so hard to free myself from the "manacle" of "art profession". I have no slight regret of what I did. Also by choosing art education (I had not other choices anyway), I learned to accept fate, my fate, so I no longer feel miserable for "what I could do if..". But I would still say this, if I had freedom to choose my own path, if my profession was not "art", my life would be 10 times, or 100 times easier. It is true that I learned a lot through the difficulty journey of my life, but this doesn't mean that I could not learn the same thing in a different path. As I don't believe misery is necessary for compassion, I also don't believe adversity is necessary for wisdom. And this difficulty, this ordeal I went through was unnecessarily "man-made", due to my parents' sheer ignorance to human nature.

Early Fall, acrylic, 12x16. Newly painted
At the end of my lifelong "battle", I made peace not only with art, but with my parents, and my fate. Now, looking at all those paintings framed, hanging on my wall, I feel an intimacy between them and myself, as if they were my tangible children. Yes, the "art" I "hated" was not this kind. I am glad and proud that I have my fare share of art, the art by my own definition. Maybe after all, my life path was not that bad. I don't even feel resented to be called as an "artist" now. However, deep inside I know I am not qualified to be any type of "professionists", because I am simply a person who enjoys things randomly, and never really know what I would be passionate or not passionate about when I wake up tomorrow morning.

May 24, 2013

Busy With Love, No Time for Math

You Send Me
You Send Me (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last night while watching TV, I "accidentally" heard a song by Sam Cooke: A Wonderful World. I heard this song long time ago but never really got chance to know it better. Last night I felt a little different, not only I wanted listen the whole song, but also I wanted to know the lyrics. I don't usually care about lyrics because I believe music is the "soul" of a song, but this time I felt an urge to know what he was sing about. So I got this from google:

Don't know much about history 
Don't know much biology 
Don't know much about a science book 
Don't know much about the French I took 

But I do know that I love you 
And I know that if you love me, too 
What a wonderful world this would be ...

I was literally "electrified' by these words, especially when they were sung by Cooke's - God helps me find a right adjective- voice. After some moment of emotional stir, I like to write down why this song means so much to me:

First of all, it relates me personally. As a self-claimed intelligent person who was forced into art profession by tyrannical parents, it was my "life time" pain that I did not get chance to develop my intelligence "academically". I fought my fate, fought so hard that I almost "died". At the end of battle, with plenty chronic health problems together with plenty of freedom in hands, I found LOVE, thus I realized that knowledge, or intelligence no longer matter that much to me. Of course, this doesn't say that I gave up pursuing what I once longed for, but only means that I no longer feel "anxiety" about all those that I have not yet known, or those that I will never be able to know.

Secondly, as a person come from a culture that lacks love, I especially appreciate this song. In Chinese mainstream culture, intelligence, or more accurately, "smartness", is something so "worshiped" that one's most fear would be being told that he/she was not smart. Though I am a person who respects human intelligence, how this culture practices "intelligence" is something I precisely despise (yes, I mean it!). It seems to me, for a significant amount of people in this culture, intelligence, or smartness, has only one single use: to compete with each other, or to climb to the highest (or as high as possible) position in social hierarchy. Compassion, love, have little rooms in this culture.

Finally, from humanity view. I adore ancient Greek culture, adore knowledge, but more and more I realized, that the best knowledge we could ever have, is just one simplest thing: Love. For a person that know how to love, he/she doesn't need any thing more. This is exactly what this song expresses in such a simple yet beautiful "fashion".

Yes, love alone is enough. For this reason, I found I do not mind that much about knowledge, about math any more; for this reason, couple of days before, I opened my door to two lovely ladies from Baha'i church. I am going to have friends. As long as they believe in love, I don't care to what church they belong. 

May 19, 2013

Annotations by Alexander McCall Smith

These are annotations made by Alexander McCall Smith in his book "The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency". I really like them so I like to make a copy of them here:

'The opening line is a homage to Karen Blixen's "Out of Africa" which begins: "I had a farm in Africa..."'

p.1 'This tiny white van was to become very important in the Mma Ramotswe saga.'

 p.7 'Mma Ramotswe is fond of men, but she understands their weaknesses.'

 p.72 'This story was originally not in the book. It is a dark tale, and I introduced it at the suggestion of the publisher who was first going to publish this but then changed his mind. He thought the book too tame - too positive! However, this particular story does add to the book in an important way.'

 p.83 [of the clock flashing 3:04]'People have often asked me of the significance of this. The answer is none. Often things that happen in our lives have no significance!'

 p.123 'Mma Ramotswe's hero, Seretse Khama - a great man who set his moral stamp on Botswana. I never met him but I came to know his son Ian Khama, who became the fourth president of Botswana.' 

p.209 'This scene was beautifully realised by Anthony Minghella in his film of this book. He showed me the relevant section shortly after it had been shot and I ended up in tears.'

p.213 [on the last line] 'And I thought I had finished the story and was saying goodbye to Mma Ramotswe. I was wrong.'

May 8, 2013

Two Different Kinds of Humans

The Moon is the most common major object viewe...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It seems, in regard to knowing the ultimate truth (of universe, of life), humans can fall only in these two different categories: those who don't know, and those who pretend to know.  

(Did I hear someone saying this or it came out of my own mind? Anyhow, it is what I believe now)

May 2, 2013

Spring in Giant's Garden

I was deep moved by a drawing, made by one of my students Rachel Liu (7 year-old). It was a illustration of "The Selfish Giant", a fairy tale written by Oscar Wilde.

She created this drawing yesterday in my class. During the class I let kids reading story and watching a video first, then they seemed to be very pleased, and immediately had many ideas about what to draw, no need to be bothered by their teacher at all.

"The Selfish Giant" tells a story about a giant, who always chased children away when they came to play in his garden. So his garden was always cold like winter. Once, Giant left for a long time, children came and played freely in the garden. "Magically", garden finally entered in Spring - each tree blossomed when a child climbed on it.

I don't remember all details about this story, but it remains as one of my favorite fairy tale ever. I created a picture sequence about this story when I just learned to use computer in school, unfortunately the project was lost in "cyber space" due to my ignorance on saving digital files (That was when I first came to this country and I was not able to understand what professor said in class). But here comes my compensation, what Rachel did yesterday absolutely brought me pleasure. She pick up the moment when giant left and garden. If you look closely at trees (in the second image), you would see some children here and there, playing joyfully.

Details of trees

My Dreams

Full Moon 2
Full Moon 2 (Photo credit: ecotist)
I was officially 48 year-old by last month. Somehow I felt an urge to write an auto-bio, but my instinct told me to wait a little longer, in case I get really famous so my bio could make me lots of money. Plus, my English isn't quite "there" yet. Nonetheless, I decided to satisfy my vanity vicariously: instead of writing a bio - an experience that mostly related to what I did during daytime, I would write my dreams - an experience about what I did during my sleep. I believe dreams are more or less reflections of our daytime life experience.

Below were some quite interesting dreams during the first half of my life (if I could live until 96) , in chronological order:

Escape dream: these type of dreams occurred in my earlier life, from my childhood to my early teen years. In these dreams, I always carried my (older) sister on my back, running away from some dangers. The typical scenario was during WWII China (obviously adapted from some movies I watched), I was running away from Japanese soldiers who were chasing us. The dream was extremely intense, like some suspense thrillers, and always ended up with my waking up with despair in the last moment before I got really captured.
My interpretation of these dreams is very simple, in early years of my life I was burdened by my family, there were times that this burden was too heavy for me to endure. Poor me!

Flying dream: my happiest dream ever! Inside I would literally fly, high or low, I had that wonderful view of earth. Sometime I seemed to descend unwillingly, but with a little effort I ascended again, soaring through mountains, cities, forests, and oceans!
This dream is the dream of freedom - while flying high, I had a tasted that ultimate freedom I yearned for. I don't know when I started having these dreams but I know I started when I was very young, and during my early middle age they seemed to vanished. Maybe that means I felt trapped during my years of middle age hazard. But now I do feel free again, and I hope they come back soon!

Supernatural dream: these dreams are quite unexplainable. Here is the latest example which I would call "phone dream", it was about my phone. In reality, I have this normal telephone set, if someone call me, the light in screen of my phone would turned on first, also the red light signals on answering machine would flash a couple of seconds before the phone rings. One day (about one year ago) I was taking a nap, I dreamt my telephone handset started flashing some signals, then it rang. I know this is no miracle at all, but what really happened was, my phone in reality rang at the same time as in my dream, EXACTLY the same moment! This means, somehow, even if I was sleeping, I foresaw the upcoming event in perfect precision.
Here is another example which took place much earlier in my life, about 20 years ago: in a dream I was sitting inside a room. The room had a window that was on the same side of the door, which means, if someone come to my door, I usually would see him/her passing through the window first. Then in my dream I saw a person walking pass the window, as if she (I believe it was a girl) was walking toward my door, then I heard the sound of knocking door. And just like my "phone dream", the sound of knocking occurred at the exactly same time in my dream and in reality - someone was outside my door. Of course I woke up, startled, opened the door, and there stood my friend!
This type of dreams happened several times in my life, for what I can remember, at least 4, or 5 times. I found they are quite unexplainable.

First-lady dream: another unexplainable dream! In this dream I was a first lady of the country (China) during Nationalist regime (before Communist). This is a big deal, because it means, as a lesbian, somehow I managed to be the wife of Jiang Kai Shek! The "scenario" was simple, I was standing beside my President husband, posed idly for press conference photo taking after some important meeting regarding some important international matters.
I have absolutely no slightest idea about how I had this dream, but one thing I do understand is the choice of scenario - after the "important meeting", because even in my dream I deliberately avoided the situation that would expose my completely ignorance about those "important international matters". However, I have to admit, the choice of Jiang Kai Shek was extremely unsound, consider I had total freedom to choose any president I wanted.

1986, I walked through a plank road on Hua
mountain in China, the most precipitous
mountain in China. Underneath about
one foot wide wooden plank which I
stepped on was thousand feet high cliff
 (over 80 degree steep).
P.S. this photo was not taken in my 
dream:-) and I indeed reached the top
of cliff - see next picture.
Climbing Dream: I had this dream a few times in different phases of my life: I was climbing a very steep cliff, either by hands or by driving (a car). The cliff was so steep that it almost passed the 90 degree and I was at the edge of falling off. A few times I woke up in panic condition, a few other times, I don't remember how I ended the "story", but I do remember couple of times I did reach the top of cliff.
I had these dreams usually when I had some "goals" to achieve. Indeed, sometime my goals were just too high. I am glad I do not have any "goals" anymore.

Blind Dream: these dreams were devastating. Inside them I either drove a car with a broken break, or saw the heavy snow or rain covered my windshield, in whatever way, I could not see things in front of me. The worse thing was, the car was always moving, which made me felt complete loss of control.
These dreams happened during first half of my middle age (I suppose I am still in middle age::-)), when I was totally lost, totally don't know where to go. Good thing is, after sky fell, I saw another wider sky. So I don't have this kind of dream any more. Thank God!

Journey Dream: I started having this dream during recently years. In it I usually rode bike, needed to go somewhere that seemed to be too far away to reach. It usually happened in the night, where I could not get any helps - no bus, no train, but only a bike,... During the dreams I was not terribly dreadful, but I did feel tired, and inadequate.
These dreams reflect my chronic physical problem. It lasts so long that sometime I did have doubt that I could ever get recovered completely. I occasionally still have this dream, but hopefully, as my physical condition improve, they would go away.

Above are some dreams I think worth to write down so far in my life. I think they somehow interpreted my life experience. There must be tone of other interesting dreams but unfortunately, I can only remember them on the day when I die. Most of these dreams I remembered happened multiple times during different phases of my life, except "first lady dream", which was a "one time privilege", I suppose.

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