Thursday, February 7, 2008

Part Thirty three

As the youngest child, my younger sister
had a special place in our mother’s heart,
and that special relationship continued
right up until the end.

Like the other girls in our family , she excelled in school, both in academics and athletics. Her specialty was the vaulting horse, and even though she was two years younger than I, she could vault just as high.

When the family moved to the Friendship Hotel complex in the early 1965, both of us went to the same primary school, so we played together a lot – and believe me, she was very competitive.

One game we played together was called “catch”: one girl would sit on the top of the double bars, and one girl was on the ground trying to catch her. As soon as she was tagged, the players would change positions – and both my sister and I were very quick and hard to catch. (which might explain why we wore our pants out so quickly). The other game was jumping the elastic rope – so that our shoes got worn out very fast too, especially the soles, so mom had to mend them all the time.

Once in a while we had a fight, mainly quarrels. One time, I had something in my hand and it touched my sister’s face. I felt very bad when I saw the red marks it left, and I was scared to see her crying. Mom scolded me and said that I had a cold heart – but that was not true. It really was just an accident.

Like me, she was sent to a boarding school at a very early age (two)

She was in a different class, but we saw each other all the time in the courtyard or hall way. Every Saturday afternoon, a bus picked us up and dropped us off at the gate of our father’s work unit, and then dad would take us home. One time dad was so busy at work, he forgot all about us. We waited and waited but he never came. Since it would soon be dark – I made the decision to follow a neighbor who had come to take his son home, (the neighbor didn’t know us, and he didn’t notice us following him either). We walked behind him until we reached our house – which was a quite a distance for a 3 and 5 years old -- plus we had to cross a major street. When mom saw us without dad, she was scared -- but she was proud as well and gave me a lot of credit for that brave and quick thinking

When the rest of her class advanced to grade school, she was kept out of school by an illness she picked up when my mother had taken her to the countryside to visit her grandmother. When she recovered, it was too late to join her classmates, so she went to a day school close to home, and lived at home thereafter. (I had always wondered why I was the only child who went to boarding school from age 2 to 11 --- and early last year, Mom told me about my sister’s illness)

She also lived at home with mother all through the cultural revolution – although that home moved from Beijing to a small village in Henan province.

Their village was very poor – and there weren’t even enough warm clothes to go around in the winter – so people had to take turns going outside. There was also barely enough food – so the farmers ate three meals of steaming hot cornmeal porridge every day – just to fill their stomachs. (which led, unfortunately, to high incidence of throat cancer).

While there, my sister attended a rural school, where she scored top marks – and even though her father was in prison, she participated in all the school activities. She even got to play a role in a revolutionary opera.

Upon graduation, she was given a job as gardener in the Fragrant Hills recreational park, just outside of Beijing.

Being two years younger than me, she had always been a bit shorter and smaller than me -- but after she became a gardener, she got really strong – I suppose from carrying all those heavy pots up and down the hills in the park. She also grew to be an inch taller than I am – and soon people thought that I was the younger sister – since she had grown into a young adult much earlier.

That was where her hard work and good attitude got her nominated to become a member of the Communist party – and although she was the youngest sibling, she was the first to join the party.

As told earlier, that was also where she caught the eye of a young officer who began dating her for the next five years. But for reasons never explained, she eventually broke off that relationship, and ended up being matched with a co-worker of my older sister’s husband, and they would move to Beijing and start a family.

She got a job working in the offices of the Beijing public school administration and then began attending night school to get her college degree. After that, she got one promotion after another, and eventually rose to become director of the eastern district, overseeing all the high schools in that area.

Unlike me, my sister is not a trouble-maker ! She knows how to say the right things and work her way up in a bureaucracy to a higher position than any of our other siblings have ever achieved. She writes very well, and just like traditional scholar-officials – she has beautiful hand writing. She gets along with everyone, but still she stands up strong for her own opinions and beliefs.

Her husband’s father held a high position in the steel industry – and this gave her husband many opportunities as the Chinese economy began to expand. He was the one, for example, who managed to give my older brother the opportunity to purchase a factory for the window manufacturing business that he and his partners began.

He’s had many business projects over the years – making, and also spending, a lot of money. More recently, he’s been managing the sale of properties in a shopping mall in Tienjin – so he lives in that city and commutes back to Beijing on the weekends in his BMW.

They have been a very successful, post-Mao Chinese family.

Over the past 10 years, my sister has done a lot of official traveling outside the country.. One time, she joined a delegation sent to visit the public schools of Taiwan – and she has been the only one in our family to visit our uncle who lives there. Her job has also sent her on several trips to Europe and various neighboring countries.

And remember the cat she tried to keep while living with our mother in the countryside ? Ever since she was very young – she is the one who loves animals – while I am the one who’s afraid of them. Now she has a huge tank of very fancy tropical fish that she cares for every day – while still attending to various cats and dogs

But although her life has been a good one, it has not been especially easy for their only child, who like many other children of that generation, has had a hard time finding a direction for her life, even though her parents could afford to send her to schools all over the world.

But my sister never gave up on her – and now it seems her daughter has finally gotten back on track -- working in a high school, and going back to evening school to get a higher degree.

Finally, I have to mention all the time my sister spent with our mother – visiting her almost every day during her lunch hour – since her office was only five minutes from Mom’s apartment All of us are very grateful for that – especially me, who lives so far away

I am very proud of my sister.

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