Saturday, August 18, 2007

Part Twenty Four

We worked hard during the week – and we partied hard on the days off.

Maybe it was all that sex and scandal airport fiction that we were picking up from the bus seats of American tourists (like Arthur Haley’s “Hotel”)– but for whatever reason, my group of friends, most of whom knew English, were much more like young Americans than like the Chinese of our parents generation.

(For so many years, ever since 1949, we had been forbidden to listen to BBC or Voice of America, all the shortwave frequencies had been blocked, and there was hardly any current event reading material to be found. We knew almost nothing about the rest of the world. The first time I saw a foreign product was in the early 1960’s when my father’s co-worker bought a transistor radio from Japan. I was amazed that you could hold it in your hand while listening to it. Foreigners were rarely seen on the streets of Beijing . In the early 1960s. we ran into a group of foreigners on the shopping street. I did not know where they were from, but a couple of them were black, and one of them was very tall and thin, with long fluffy hair. Now I realize that maybe they were black hippies, but it was very strange to us at that time. They must have been high status since there were some government officials with them.)

Both my husband and I were often on the road. As a journalist, he made several long trips every year (once he visited Peru – and brought me back an alpaca wool sweater) While working as a tour guide, I had to stay at the hotel with my groups – whether we were touring Beijing or Nanking.

When we had some time at home, we often threw big parties for our friends.

I did all the cooking – and then everyone did all the dancing, dancing, dancing --- sometimes all the way until daybreak, when we would cover the windows with blankets to keep out the daylight. Some people got tired and fell asleep on the bed, but when they woke up, they’d go back to dancing, and as you might imagine, alcohol would be involved.

We were some high-energy young Chinese ! We were party pioneers – and my husband and I served as “party central” for our group of friends – because we had our own apartment (many of them still lived with their family). We also didn’t have any children, and my income was sufficient to buy all the food (in China, the hostess provides everything – no such thing as “pot luck”)

Whenever we had too many people for our party room, we would take the bus or bicycle over to a friend’s place. He had a new, completely unfurnished apartment. (so there was no furniture to get in the way)

Regarding my income, it had started as only 43 yuan/month – like every other college graduate. But within a few years I was getting bonuses from the shops and restaurants where I took the tourists – and eventually I was making more money than even my high official father.

Regarding children, we finally tried to have one, but it ended in tragedy.

When my husband and I had first become lovers, we were eager but also very naive about sex. We didn’t want to have children right away, but we also didn’t know how to prevent that from happening. We had a “barefoot doctor” manual on birth control, but it turns out that it had the fertility cycles all wrong . We had condoms, but often they broke. So I ended up with two pregnancies – and two abortions. Abortions, even late term abortions, were easily available – but that didn’t make them any less painful and humiliating.

Then, later, when we were ready to have a child, I miscarried at 7 months. The doctor said that in America the child would have lived – but Beijing, at that time, had no facility to care for premature babies.

And that was the last time we tried. I was told by the doctor that we should wait for a couple of years before trying again, and being on the road all the time, I really did not have time to take care of children anyway ( meanwhile my sisters and brothers all had their baby girls between 1980 -1982, and I was just as happy to be an aunt instead of a mom.)

Instead of having children – we had parties.

For music, we had a small tape recorder – and cassettes of mostly Russian music – of the kind we could dance to – like waltzes.

For my thirtieth birthday party, we had 15- 20 guests, and we ate, drank, and danced.

Most of the party goers were my husband’s friends– while I had a few friends from the office and a few more from my student days – including that short, wild girl with whom I once broke into a movie theater back in high school.

Many of our partygoers were couples – but we had many singles as well –and sometimes singles would become couples. Over the course of many parties, one of my friends found a lover – broke up – found another lover – and later broke up with him as well.

Like me, all of my girl friends soon got married --- but within a few years, all of them got divorced as well – and as it turned out, none of them got remarried either. Why should they ?

And one of the couples that met each other at one of these parties --- was my own husband and the wife of another man !

Ever since we’d first met, I’d felt that he was never completely open with me – but now disturbing evidence began to appear that raised a lot of questions.

Since I was housecleaner and laundress (without the benefit of washing machines), nothing much happened in our apartment that could escape my attention.

One day, after I got home from a two week trip to somewhere, I found that something very odd had happened in our bedroom. The bed sheet had been washed, and was recovering the bed, but not in the way that I had always done it.

Why did I find black hairs on the pillow that were longer than mine? Why had the transom window above the door to our (office building) bedroom been covered in black paper ? Why was my husband receiving extra money from his mother – what was he spending it on ?

And it was very hard to hide anything from the neighbors, since we lived at the end of a long hallway and someone visiting us had to walk past every other single room. Plus, when you entered the courtyard, you had to pass the doorman. Strangers were not allowed to enter, unless they were visitors and then they had to mention who they were going to visit. There was almost no privacy at all.

I began talking with the doorman and my next door neighbor (a high school girl) – and I learned that everyone in our building (except me) knew that my husband was seeing another woman.

I confronted him – but he denied it – so I moved into our second room (our apartment had two rooms – but each was in a different part of the building) – and that’s how we lived for the next year. I told him that we could get back together, if only he would be open about what he had done – but he always denied it. He didn’t want a divorce – and I didn’t want to tell my parents about it – so we were in something of a stalemate.

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