Xin Nian Hao!

Not sure about this temptation thing — I guess it’s the feeling I get when I see a puppy of the same stamp as Bear, a puppy who needs a home. “Oh man…” I dunno… I was tempted to ask the Chatbot to write a post for me on this subject, but decided against it. It might be be better than my own writing and then where would I be? Besides, the dogs need their routine and I like writing my blog post every morning.

It made me think about the importance of our small daily rituals. Maybe they are the glue that hold us together in the random small and large tempests of our existence. Writing this blog is a ritual in my daily life. Like my cup of coffee, it’s insurance that, for at least 30 minutes or an hour, I will do something that is meaningful to me. I began it back when I was teaching a lot and had almost no time to myself.

Today is the first day of Chinese New Year, and it’s a year of the Rabbit. I happen to be a Rabbit, though I was born in 1952. I was born before the Lunar New Year changed. At midnight last night (Ontario Canada time) I got a message from my Chinese brother wishing me a Happy New Year. I thought about all the years between now and my Chinese New Year in 1983. I thought about the world in which my Chinese Brother and I were a part for a very short time and the bond that formed. He’d lived his whole life — through the Cultural Revolution — before he met me. And I had lived my whole life with its vicissitudes before I met him.

Our first meeting happened when a big taxi-van brought me and the Good X, two foot lockers and two backpacks — and skis! — to the door of our apartment building. Xiao Huang — a wiry, skinny young guy in a pair of khaki shorts, white shirt and plastic sandals — came out and hoisted our footlockers (one at a time, he wasn’t Superman) and carried them up three flights of stairs to our apartment. Neither the Good X nor I could have done that, and we looked at each other amazed. That was one of the first surprises China had for us.

It was just one year in both our lives, but that year and our contact changed both our lives. How he got to be my brother? I feel pretty safe saying that a lot of Chinese at the time — that I knew, anyway — hoped their American contacts would lead to an opportunity to leave China.

My brother, because he was learning English, was sent to Luoyang in northern China, far from Guangzhou, to work in a factory for the ten or so years of the Cultural Revolution. It was exile, a kind of punishment. He would have been very young. I was 30 when we met and he is a few years younger than I. I don’t know the whole story, but I know that Luoyang is MUCH colder than Guangzhou; the factory was cold, the hours were long, and godnose what his dormitory was like. I know he probably endured hours of “political study,” and had to write at least one “confession.” And why? Because his mom came from a bourgeois family even though his dad was a Party member and part of the provincial government. His younger brother was left completely alone by the government, as far as I know.

But my brother was learning English and who knows? Maybe that was the problem? Ultimately that was why he got his job at my university translating and looking out for the foreign teachers.

When we got to know each other, we discovered that we liked each other. He brought us home to meet his mother and twice she made the complicated journey all the way out to our apartment. Over time she said that I was a good older sister to her son and so I was adopted and became part of the family. It makes my eyes sweat remembering this, but I will persevere…

He made some mistakes in English, and many of them were funny. He laughed at himself; he wasn’t worried about losing face. One of them was calling tears “eye sweat.”

In 1983 no one knew if the Cultural Revolution was really over or what would happen next. My brother accompanied us to Shanghai, our port of departure for our return to America. He was a little intimidated by Shanghai, the fancy hotel in which our university had put us up, everything. After two nights and one day of sightseeing, it was time for us to leave. My brother came with us to the airport where there was the inevitable negotiation over baggage. We’d been told we could have two pieces each and there was a weight limit. We followed the rule. At the airport we learned that together we could have only ONE piece of luggage, but there was no weight restriction. My brother somehow uncovered a gigantic string bag into which we placed two backpacks, two footlockers, a carpet and skis. Everyone laughed but it was fine; it was one piece. China was like that. Even IT knew some of its rules were absurd and whimsical.

The moment came. The plane was called. We stood in line. I looked up at my brother.

“Ma Sa, your eyes are sweating,” he said.

“So are yours,” I answered.

Featured photo: My brother with two men at Waqqas Tomb in Guangzhou. Waqqas was a missionary who brought Islam to China. You can learn more here: Waqqas Tomb.

13 thoughts on “Xin Nian Hao!

  1. I much prefer daily rituals to habits. I keep a cartoon in the kitchen called “Mr Natural Does the Dishes” to remind me that mindfulness is not about some high-falutin’ “practice”, but about doing what I am doing when I am doing it. Grinding the coffee, going out to get the newspaper, shoveling the snow; all of those simple things can be done while paying attention or not. I think paying attention makes a difference. It helps me remember that I do things the way I do them for a purpose.

    The “one piece of luggage” reminds me that I was allowed only a “personal item” on United Airlines this summer. A laptop in the sleeve I have would have been too big to qualify. (A phone and folding keyboard were okay.)

    “Eye sweat” is great. My daughter, as a child, often said things that made my eyes sweat.

  2. I read this to Sparky. He loves the term “eye sweat” – says it sounds more “manly” because it takes the stigma away for men crying!! I’m so glad you have been able to reconnect with your Chinese Brother – the internet has shrunk our world…

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