Menu Close

A Family’s Adventure in Wonderland – Meeting the Mentor

(This is one of my earlier English essays.)

Out in a pool of passengers and bags, we hurriedly followed the “Little Red Hat”, a male porter hired to cart our luggage. Just when I was getting doubtful whether my legs could carry me any further at this speed, the Red Hat came to a halt before an escalator that led to a gate no wider than that of a typical Chinese underground passageway.

“There you are.” He said in a mocking Beijing tone. “Job done.” Without further ado, he placed all the bags onto the rolling steps haphazardly among many human legs. Then he turned back and walked off with his empty cart and our 20 Yuan. It turned out that more skills and strength were required to pull the bags off the escalator before any knee could collide with them…or worse, with your head.

“It is a wonder that this grand international train station can function without elevators or free carts!” Indignantly I said, thinking of those less fortunate passengers who were confined in wheelchairs, but quickly I diverted my attention to the long walk to the nearest bus that would take us to our final destination.

On the bus puffs, making its way through a bustling mishmash of vans, trucks, taxis, scooters, rickshaws, bikes, and pedestrians. Sunlight from a clear blue sky rebounded off the forest of glass-steel buildings and threw glares and glances at the faces of the few privileged passengers who sat by the windows. Gibber, chatter, whisper inside the crammed bus rose and fell with honks, toots, whooshes from the bustle and hustle outside. In a yellowish seat reserved for the elderly, the pregnant, or the disabled I sat with Mother, exposing myself to this whole new experience, and then it became quieter. Quieter still when we got off the bus, put the eight pieces of luggage in order, walked on a few yards, made a couple of turns, and saw a willow-lined creek running along a neat little road that directed us to our shelter in this big big city.

This “shelter” was the home of my friend Jeannie, whom I call Aunt according to the great Chinese civility, though we have never met in person before.

To a question “Would you leave your house in the hand that you have never shaken”, there may not be more positive answers than responses with a sneer, “Are you crazy?”

Aunt was not crazy, she had simply gone to Shanghai for her mother’s birthday before thrusting her keys to Father, who happened to be on a business trip and took a sojourn there to make earlier arrangements for our arrival; and with whom she shook hands for the first time.

With a few clicks we opened the doors and squeezed into a dark hallway that stretched to a bright living room and a balcony. Softly and quietly we put down our bags, and the first thing that came into our sharp focus was notes placed here and there. Notes that contained instructions like:

“These are energy-saving light bulbs. Do not turn them on and off repeatedly.”

“Water for laundry or kitchen can be collected and reused to flush the toilet.”

“Bedclothes are all clean.”

“Here are some snacks for you to nibble, Jenny.”

“Help me consume the rice, beans, and flour!”

“Watch out for cockroaches!”

“You may read my books, Jenny.”

Cockroaches and books were indeed the best that characterized this simple E-shaped flat, but it was these notes in Jeannie’s handwriting that created a home for us to have mom-made meals, broad-band Internet access, and a feeling of complete privacy in this world 3768km (2341 miles) away from our own.

What had gone missing till the day we left, sadly, was Aunt Jeannie waving hello to us, a sight for which I had yearned weeks before the trip. Fortunately, life is full of surprises. Who can say for sure we will not meet in person by some other opportunity?

“There is no one who can say that,” I heard a little voice murmur in my mind as I stood before a bookshelf examining a photo of Jeannie. I just received a call from Dee saying: Let’s meet in person!

Of all my dearest friends, Dee is the one who has for six years been earning my deepest respect for her placid temperament and her outstanding skills in the Chinese and English languages. Secretly I regard her as my mentor for the art of translation and incidentally the art of life.

Pleasantly cool breeze brushed my face as if to ease my elation when my parents and I arrived at the agreed meeting spot late in the afternoon on the 21st. 4:30pm. 30 minutes to go. We decided to a have a look around with the remaining time.

Here is the China Military Museum. The China Central Television headquarters is on our left side across the street, and behind is the China Millennium Monument. We are very close to the China Railway headquarters. Father pointed here and there enthusiastically, but barely aroused my interest in these buildings, for my mind had taken me away to a winter night six years ago.

“I don’t want friendship arisen out of sympathy for my difficult situations.” I typed onto an MSN Messenger window, speaking out my true thought a tough time when I had been pained for eighteen years by a fact that I could not even hold a cup with my hyper-functioned muscles. I was miserable for who I thought I was. Useless and helpless.

“It is your abilities that really earn you friendship and respect, Jenny, not your disabilities – abilities to love and learn as a ‘normal’ person.” Dee replied.

I wanted to read that sentence again in a fraction of a second, only to find it impossible with tears in my eyes. a surge of emotions caught my heart, so powerful that the whole world shook with realization of who I wanted to be. This simple order of words she chose shattered my biased and miserable view of life. Years later, magically, mercifully it revealed so much truth in my efforts to be an independent person that, in retrospect, I have to restrain my mounting gratitude for her insight, her wisdom, her way of changing a girl’s life over this invisible world that we call World Wide Web.

Five minutes to five, said Father’s cell phone. Excitement filled up my lungs. My stomach was getting as fluttery as the magpies on a nearby tree. Cold in my hands and feet, I looked anxiously at the streams of cars.

“Could that one be hers?” Mother suggested, rubbing her hands.

“It’s gonna turn! Must be the one!” I said, but “Oh, no, it went away.”

More cars ran past us, and after what seemed both an eternity and a flash, Mother cried, “She’s waving at us down there!”

Standing by a silver-colored sedan was a medium-sized middle-aged woman with curly hair permed in a fashion just to serve as a perfect match for her dress coat and trousers. Her facial features were in an arrangement just as calm and neat as her writings I had known for years. With smiles we walked up to her and got in the car.

“How have you all been in Beijing?” broke the silence, her voice ringing with placidity and warmth as I had imagined.

It was around 9:00pm when we rambled along the dark street to our “home” after a visit to Dee’s new apartment and a delightful dinner with her. Willows by the creek were swinging their long twigs in the silent wind, like thousands of shapely fingers caressing something invisible in the darkness. I felt a sudden weight on my shoulder and looked up right into Father’s eyes.

“You are my lucky child,” he said in a tone quite unlike his own. “You’ve got great care from us and even from all those dear people in this faraway place. This is a miracle, isn’t it?”

I gave him a smile and mumbled agreement, my throat too tight to utter a word.

It is a miracle, I thought, looking at those beautiful long fingers waving on the bank. It is a miracle that I have brain cells undamaged for cognitive skills. It is a miracle that my parents fought off poverty just by saving pennies and dimes. It is a miracle that all three of us enjoyed the evening walk along the creek somewhere in Beijing with contentment and gratitude in our hearts. It is a miracle that hatched in cyberspace where many people lose their souls in video games, fraudulent schemes, and evil conspiracies and where I am, among others around the globe, empowered to discover my true abilities and free my soul from a body constrained in reality.

The willows continued to wave their long fingers in the damp evening air. They seemed to know, too, that there lives an angel who, invisible to our senses, delivers trust, hope, and love to a beautiful soul that resides in each of humans’ thumping hearts.

1 Comment

Comments are closed.