Preamble: We are always looking for something “better”. Sometimes we have the illusion that new is better and different is better, and all the while we are forgetting that old is probably the best! We are naive to assume that life will be finer in another place, and that the husbands will become ideal. We are bold enough to go through the troubles of emigration and patient enough to hold ourselves together so long for the moment to be in this place where we always have believed there will be the perfect ones waiting for us, yet only to find out that Paradise is an empty Circus after the show, where we lose even the ones we have … Despite this grand disappointment, HOPE, whoever retains it, will help them find the truly better ones…
“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.”― Victor Hugo
Paradise Circus – The Hidden Seduction
– Spring, Xi An/China – Ou Yang Mei Wen and Elisabeth
Xi An, one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilization along the Yellow River, divides its history with the old square City Walls. The thick walls protect its inhabitants from invasions as well as encumber the citizens. Under the ground lies the Army of Terracotta Warriors with horses and accessories, and at the edge of the old city was the terminus of the Silk Road. We will never cease to marvel at its historical heritage. The very first Dynasty of China took Xi An as its capital city, and it was capital throughout the following 12 dynasties until the peak of Chinese culture during the Tang Dynasty (712AD-756AD). The Vanguard Shanghai displays 100 years of Chinese history, and Beijing 1,000 years, yet Xi An tells stories going back 3,000 years. Between Athens, Cairo, and Rome, Xi An, a capital city in the bosom of China, presents its past glory with the Emperor-Air architecture of the city and its buildings.
Ou Yang Mei Wen, such a beautiful and rare four-character name! Her parents call her Xiao Mei, but her teachers and classmates call her Ou Yang because there were already some other Wens and Ou Yan sounded so exotic that they could not miss the chance to pronounce the sounds. When she was 18 years old, Ou Yang was already 1.67 meters tall, giving her an extra beauty point among her average-sized, 1.58-meter peers. Her face was oval shaped and she had high cheekbones; her eyes were a bit small, but showed passion and empathy. Her eyebrows went from the middle slightly away towards her temples; usually, we would say that girls with that kind of eyebrows are bitches. Unlike what her name indicated, she had a slightly rough and strong voice. Her big hips showed her fertility was just as passionate as her laughter. She was the picture of a fully-grown woman in spite of the covered-up breasts and bottom in classic late 80’s fashion.
When learning English as a future tour guide at The Xi An New Century Travel School, Ou Yang was introduced to Elisabeth, the wife of an American teacher. The American family was new in town and in China, and they would have loved to be friends with some locals. Elisabeth’s main job was to take care of their son Sunny, their “home” at the guesthouse of the school, and to “cook,” while teaching only four hours of Basic English. For Ou Yang, it was a great opportunity and a privilege that many of her classmates envied her for, because having some Americans to hang out with, to show them around the town would indeed improve her oral English and give her knowledge about the USA. She was so happy and so eager to take the three of them to see the City on one Saturday morning that she could hardly hold her joy inside, as she was supposed to. She couldn’t help singing the whole morning long.
When Ou Yang arrived at the gate of the guesthouse her tourist “clients” were already waiting for her. Ou Yang brought many bottles of home-made food for them and the best gift she could think of for their three year old son: a motor car with batteries. Before she could take them out, she was embarrassed by the big long hugs from the teacher and his wife. She stood there without moving, letting herself be taken over by these two big Americans. Though somewhat awkward and nervous, as Chinese do not have this kind of social rituals, she liked it and felt for the first time closely endeared. No one had ever hugged her or kissed her on her cheek like that before in her life. It was exciting and energizing! After taking out the food and the gift, Ou Yang received even longer hugs and kisses, but this time, she was prepared! She gave a sort of response by squeezing slightly with her arms and touching their faces with one corner of her mouth. She had completely surprised herself by hugging and kissing them back!
Ou Yang’s school had provided a mini bus for their visit. Being a foreign teacher in China in 1988 was almost like being a King and came with a weird sense of superiority. Of course, it was something very new! In most Chinese people’s minds, foreigners were from The Eight Nation Alliance, with ghostly blue eyes and malnourished dry yellow hair, and were trying to cut China into pieces to feed their need for post-Industrial Revolution expansion. Their hearts and senses had been burned with the humiliating period of Chinese history between 1840 and1901, when foreign troops from eight countries invaded China and drove the Empress Dowager Cixi to Xi An, along with her nephew Emperor Guang Xu. Hong Kong was leased to Britain in 1897 and Macau to Portugal in 1899 for 100 years, a heavy “indemnity” that was paid to beg for peace within their own country. The Boxers were wiped out by the foreign troops long before they realized that their biggest enemy had all along been their corrupt-to-the-bones Qing Government, and eventually their own indulgence in their own Bagu rituals and submissive hierarchical philosophy of confucius. The Boxer Rebellion also claimed the lives of 240 foreign missionaries, 20,000 Chinese Christians, and hundreds of thousands of innocent Chinese and foreign civilians and soldiers. I guess it is quite normal to have a slight xenophobia after even the Queen and Emperor fled Beijing to hide behind the thick Old City Walls of Xi An.
Time and history does not surprise us by presenting completely different behaviors within a short enough span. Instead of being afraid now, Chinese did start to see why the foreigners could be so strong and how us Chinese had become chickens waiting to be killed. The government started to hire Americans, British, Australians, and Canadians to come to teach in China, to open our eyes about what was going on outside the Great Wall. They were, for the first time in history, treated the opposite of what the Kings and Queens of all times of China treated their own teachers. At that time, foreign teachers were paid 3,500 to 6,000 Yuan a month while their Chinese counterparts were paid 150-300 Yuan, which finally made us see the light for China in a very special and unusual manner.
The past can’t define our future, as Ou Yang now was showing her teachers the place where Ci Xi and her puppet Emperor lived in Xi An during their suicidal escape, as the tattoo of “Dong Ya Bing Fu”(the sick south-eastern Chinese) did not attach any more to our pretty Ou Yang Mei Wen. The past was just like the Terra-cotta Warriors buried underground, with new plants and trees growing as if nothing had ever happened. We could never stop wondering how time could hold our breath more than anything or anyone else and how time can cure our wounded hearts like a magic invisible doctor.
On the road, Ou Yang was deeply amazed by how Elisabeth talked to Sunny. She had never seen any mother talking to her child like that! For sure, she understood “sweetie, honey, my love”, but she could never understand how kids could be treated so gently and soaked with so much love. When she saw how often Elisabeth kissed Sunny on his juicy little face, she could only wonder about where this love came from. She was 19 years old and could not remember a single kiss or hug like that. Her mom would usually push her needy hand away when Ou Yang tried to hold her mom’s hand because of fear or in need of a cuddle, or Ou Yang might hear “get aside, I am busy!” Look at Elisabeth, she attended to Sunny’s every request and finished it with a hug, a kiss, or a sweet word. Ou Yang was so refreshed by all she saw. She felt as if she was the one who was receiving all these sweet words, hugs and kisses! She sensed that her somewhat semi-open heart was bathing in a non-explicable feeling which she had no vocabulary for. It seemed that she was ascending to a platform of some sort of wonderful feelings, a bit intimidating, but soothing, encouraging and energizing, a stage where she kind of knew that she would take off to some place, a place which she was not clear about so far.
Ou Yang led them on to the old city walls.
“Wow, how special and marvelous! ” Elisabeth nearly screamed. To Ou Yang, Elisabeth was very special too! She was taller than her and of slim body type. She had a young fresh face that was always glowing. Her Irish blue eyes under her joyful smiling eyebrows flickered with excitement and her narrow chin made her smile big and wide. We had no idea at all what was going on in her mind. An American stood there in front of the very “foreign” culture that the western countries had been dreaming to share, while she could just know so much about her 400 years of history. She also had “yellow” coloured hair like the “foreign ghosts”. But in that moment, the hair was changing into a fine golden blond and they were dancing healthily around her beautiful face and charming long neck like wind over the edge of the same old repaired walls. Elisabeth, a 28 year-old Irish American, had come to China in a very good and unprecedented way, or rather to say that she had come at a time where Chinese would see “foreigners” with unprecedented angles, wowing the wonders of the old China, giving her loving heart out to people whom she had never met before.
On the corner, an old Chinese man came into sight. He was an old man with his long white hair bundled on the back of his head like a daoist master. Strangely, he was not doing Tai Ji or meditation; in fact he was doing something that no one would ever think of! He was knitting! He knitted vests for women, hats for men, and little purses for young girls. Another thing you would never think of was his age. In China, no one minds being asked about their age, especially old men.
“Old Grandpa, how old are you?” Ou Yang asked him.
The old man was used to the question, and seeing all these foreigners. He lifted his head from his knitting and smiled gently.
“87 this year, 87!” We could see that he was proud of his age, with wisdom hidden in his silvery hair, tanned wrinkles on his face and hands. We could also feel a distant love vaguely endearing us in his seemingly un-vanquishable spirit. 87 years was not long in the grand scheme of 5,000 years of history, and at 19 years old, Ou Yang’s life had just started, a life that might be very different! Even though she had been overwhelmed by this particular opportunity with the American family and she did not pay much attention to who this old man was, how he felt and where his confidence came from, Ou Yang, a young life full of energy, hungry for discoveries and love, would definitely make her own way on a road that she could not be sure of how far it would take her.
Stay tuned next week for the next part in the series