Summer 2006, Shenzhen, China
I was, granted, too young to remember much details. My scattered memories of that summer were filled with bitterness. My parents fought and argued, and eventually they terminated their marriage. To a young child, it felt like the world was falling apart. A couple months later, my grandparents decided to take me and my older brother with them. Being 4 years old, I had no choice but to follow them into an uncertain future.
For the next 3 years, I lived in Wuhan, miles from the murky waters of the mighty Yangtze, first bypassing some of the European-style marble and granite buildings along parts of the river shore (many of which were built by actual Europeans during late 19th-early 20th century), past the old sprawling market and newly built shopping malls, and navigating through the streets lined with apartments a few to many stories high. Wuhan was in some cases wealthy, yet also mired in poverty. Some apartments appeared new, shiny, almost luxurious even. Yet, others appeared grisly and dreadful. It’s walls were cracked and battered, the windows were old and stained, with dried mosses and vegetation filling up the cracks and crevices. Yet, as pitiful as they looked, countless Wuhan residents still call these places home. My Grandparent’s apartment was neither terrifically old, nor new and spacious. It was on the first floor of a modest, blocky 8 story building, with plain grey walls, and skinny, rusted iron bars protruding out of the windows to prevent burglary, or at least according to the people living there.
I was not happy moving to this new, unfamiliar place. My grandparents, then aged in the late 50’s and early 60’s, were sometimes harsh disciplinarians. They certainly did not refrain from giving us love and compassion, but when the rules were broken, they would also not shy away from physical discipline. I was, in all honesty, sometimes terrified of them. Here in the States we frown upon corporal punishment, especially directed towards a little kid, but in China it’s far more socially acceptable, as long as you don’t injure the child.
I missed living with my parents, and their calm temper. I couldn't wait for them to be back. To take me home. My Mother would occasionally come back North and visit us, and maybe live with us for a few days or weeks. If I remember correctly my father never came up to visit us. He had moved away from Shenzhen to find work in another city. He still supported financially, but rarely did I see him.
When my mother left and headed back south , I cried.
During the fall of 2007, I was enrolled in 1st grade at a new elementary school not too far from where I lived. I was 5 ¾ years old, the youngest pupil in my class. The most unforgettable experience I had was befriending one particular kid. He was, in many aspects much less fortunate than I was. The times I went over to where he lived, I discovered that his family lived crammed in a one-bedroom apartment, leaving him to sleep in the tiny, dark kitchen. There was no other place. He was scrawny, almost malnourished. His family operated a old shoes store along a gray, dusty street, that wasn’t doing well.
I felt symptomatic for him. There was little I could possibly do to change the situation he is in. Although I was still very young, I guess it did teach me to be a little more grateful and compassionate, for there were people far worse off than I was.
As September turned into October, the humid, sticky heat of Wuhan Summers started to fade, as the leaves of ginkgoes and aspen trees turned yellow and fell amidst the cooler winds of change blowing from the North. The Winters in Wuhan are chilly, not cold enough to have all apartments equipped with central heating, but cold enough that it still snows occasionally. If it got too cold, we would huddle around the kitchen every morning for warmth, and while the heavy clothing made the outside temperature tolerable, your exposed skin still dries and itches due to the dry frigid wind.
During Early February of 2008, we were hit by the heaviest snowstorm in close to half an century. While it was beautiful seeing thick, fluffy snow piling up against the trees, buildings, and streets, it also knocked out power, and during the Frigid nights that followed horror stories came of people freezing to death in their homes. Granted, those were rumors that could be false, but what is sure is that the snowstorm made the lives of many unbearable.
During the Chinese new year that followed, my mother visited again, and drove all of us up back south, to Zhuhai (where my father lived) for a obligatory new year family reunion. I do not remember much of the details, yet I was happy that the whole family was together again, even if only was for a few days. Yet, I also thought about my friend still back in Wuhan. How is he doing right now? My grandmother reassured me, saying that once the snow melts, life will get back to normal.
Life did went on. In the summer of 2009 my mother took me and my brother back south, this time to Hong Kong, and eventually we immigrated to the States. My parents never remarried, and to this day I still do not totally understand why they agreed to leave me in Wuhan. Nonetheless, I slowly began to realize parents aren’t infallible beings, and when life turns difficult, everyone certainly tries their best to make things right, even though that may not always be possible.
Regardless, at that time I still disliked my parents for what they did, but eventually, as I grew older and more mature, I realized that my 3 year stay in Wuhan had taught me valuable lessons. For the first time in my life it made me see that the world was inherently unfair, and there are a lot of less fortunate people out there, even today, I sometimes remind myself of the need to be grateful for what I have. Sadly, the power of one individual in this world is far too weak. After all, I could not stop my parents from divorce, could not help my friend improve his livelihood, nor could I mend and fix all the problems in this world today, Life can be harsh, but no matter what happens, I learned to be resilient.
(The reason why I am in 11th grade right now and not 12th was because I went to 2nd grade twice, once I left Wuhan and moved to Hong Kong, where educational standards were different, so it was a opportunity for me to go back a year because I was too young. Anyway, story for another day.).