This essay has a total of 4547 words and 22 pages.
"Gateway to heaven"
"Ouch, je je I'm telling mamma!" I yelled in agony, rubbing the imprint her book left on my head.
"No you're not, she won't believe you; I'm older," snickered my sister, and with that she ran up the crowded walkway; which in the morning hour, looked much like a stampede of bulls. As I walked toward school, I listened to the distinctive chatter of my fellow civilians, smelled the exhaust fume filled air and listened to the bells and whistles of another pristine day. This was Beijing, China on another busy workday, no time to talk, money is to be made, there is always somewhere to go and some place to be. It seems that this is the ideology of all Chinese; as I looked ahead, all I can see is a sea of black hair moving from side to side, up and down, in unison, everyone trying desperately not to drown. I tread toward the edge of the curb and am taken into a world of raging machine's, streetcars, bicycles, and automobiles, racing down the street carrying even more people to some important place. I see a void in the racetrack and take a chance to run across the street to school.
I am in my last year at Mao Tse-Dung Middle School, it is full of long maintained rivalries between its top students, all of us are supposed to be the best, we are to make our families proud in any way possible and build a prosperous future; because our parents and previous ancestors worked so hard so that we could have this exclusive chance.
I have always been an exceptional student, always attending the after school classes and always being at the top of my class in all the major subject categories. After the examination, when my fellow students and I had swarmed the student standings list, I always would read my name in the top three; endlessly hearing criticism from my competitors.
"Mei Ling, first in Maths, second in Science and first in technological studies, it is because of her guanxi!"
Amused, I would simply reply, "Haha, my guanxi had nothing to do with my success, maybe you should all try studying; maybe one day I might have some real competition!" Guanxi is something that I definitely have, my father is a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party, and he more or less can 'make things happen’ for my sister and I. Next year, because of this, she was going to study in the United States, she does not have to go through all of the unnecessary obstacles that the government makes all university students go through; sometimes living with six per dorm room. She does not have to spend 5 years slaving away at a substandard job provided by the government, whose main emphasis of which is on the working class and how much money they can make for the economy to lift China into the Modern Western World.
"Mei Ling, what are you doing?" yelled my best ‘pong yo’
I looked up in shock; I hadn’t realized that I was standing in front of my locker staring at it all this time. "Umm, nothing" I answered in a daze.
"Well anyway, did you hear about Hu Yao bang?"
"What about him?"
"You mean, you don’t know?"
"No, just tell me!"
"Well, he died of a heart attack today."
I froze: this man was one of my sister’s hero’s, he was an actual respectable Chinese dignitary, and he understood China’s need for change. I stumbled and replied, "Oh really? It must be all over the news, Ching Ching, I will probably hear about it later."
With that, I slouched away looking like a wilted plant in the desert on a hot summer day. Class seemed to have dragged on for hours and hours, each teacher's lecture droned on and on and I could not concentrate. I felt as though I were a rice farmer, counting every grain of rice I had harvested. I could only think about what my sister would do. She is the wild one of my family, the more ‘American one.’ She dresses in their fashions, she talks in their ways and she even listens to their music. She is a free spirit, if anything. She has her own opinions and she chooses to voice them, she is not a normal Chinese.
She disobeys nearly all of our father’s wishes, she does not seem to care that Father has the last word for everything, and everything is his decision. We, mamma, je je and I must do everything in our power to please him because this is the way it is. In all Chinese families, the father or the man is the most powerful figure, he is everything to the family; everyone else, especially females, are there to serve him, we are there to perform his wishes and to complete his commands. Women are meant to be more of a convenience than a burden. I can remember a time when je je was 15 and I was 11, Baba told her she couldn’t go to a local play put on by a local drama group because one of the members was "against the CCP" and Baba would not have his daughter seeing such a biased made mockery of so-called ‘artwork.’
On my way home back into the jungle of the streets of Beijing, the sounds I heard earlier in the day were still there to accompany me on my adventure. The signs of mourning were already apparent with store owners burning ‘heaven’s’ bank notes and other necessities the dead may need in their afterlife, the smell of incense welcomed me as I explored the different preparations. They say that if a person is not "prepared for and cared for in their burial, they will haunt the living that were supposed to take care of them." My guess is that no one wants to be haunted by Hu Yao bang, so this is why they are mourning so openly. As I continued my stroll through the somber atmosphere, I begin to notice all the different ways people mourn, the Buddhist, the Confucius, the Taoist all of them paid their respects to Hu Yao bang; I could imagine that the parades would begin soon, these mourning for Hu Yao bang’s life. I recalled his background, Hu Yao bang came from a family that had a strong commitment to the CCP, he joined the Red army, and by 19 he was a full CCP member. He took apprenticeship under Deng Xiao ping, China’s leader at that time, Hu Yao bang was one of the front contender’s for the Red Army's leadership, but because of his support for the students protesting for a better educational system and increased democracy he was condemned and spent most of his latter life reading, practicing calligraphy, and taking long walks.
I almost walked past my flat; it looked different today, less cheerful. We were lucky to live in a building with more class than many others; no rats, and we had wood floors instead of concrete. Walking on the path towards the gray concrete door, I remembered the night when I was in the hallway and je je was sneaking into the house from one of her ‘study groups,’ she pulled me outside and made me sit with her on the large concrete steps that lead to the door.
This is when she said something that I didn’t know the meaning of at the time, in a hesitant matter she said, "No matter what anyone tells you, I am your je je and I will always be." I thought she was crazy, maybe the bitter cold of that February night had gotten to her, or maybe it was fumes vacating the local tannery that we stared at from across the street. This night was the first time I had noticed the sparkle in her eyes, while she lectured me on how I should not be like her. At that moment she was no longer just my sister but she was almost like a Shinto goddess to me, a higher being; she was not part of old China’s ways as Baba said. She did not believe in our traditions, she was a girl, in China with her own political views, a complete oxymoron in these days. Je je was the perfect representation of a new democratic China, one with increased rights for all, freedom of expression and as je je would say with a grin ‘American boys!’ My sister has a massive influence on my life, her kindred spirit brings color to my black and white life, I admire and love her; I sometimes feel as though I am the older sister, obligated to give her advice on what’s right and wrong and being required to cover for her when she doesn’t take my advice; which was usually a good part of the time. Though I can talk the world of my je je, she does have her faults, the biggest one being that she is an active member of the underground movement at Bei Da. This is her biggest secret, the one could break our family, and so it is essential for me to keep this one from my Mamma and Baba. She attends all of the democracy rallies; she listens to the crowd's voice and hears the cries of her fellow classmates calling for China’s reformation into a democratic society. The students yearn for a society in which they have a voice, an opinion and better living conditions and additional support from the government for when they are thrust into the cruel hands of the working world, a world that does not reward intelligence with better wages and praise, but spits down upon them as if they are no better than mafia members laundering money stolen from their loved ones.
"Mei Ling, chin ai de, why are you sitting here wasting your time?"
I looked up from the front steps of the flat into my mother’s tired eyes,
"Umm mamma, I’m just thinking"
"Ai yah, you sound like Jing Yee, just ‘thinking’ about nonsense all the time, where is your je je anyway?"
"Uhhh, she is probably still at school, her study group meets tonight." Another lie for my je je,
"Heh, she studies too much, always at school, never at home." Hissed mamma while she pushed past me into the house. I rose to my feet like a crane carrying cars to be crunched in a junkyard and followed her inside.
Welcomed by the overwhelming scent of tiger balm probably wafting into the hallway from the local herb sorcerer, Dr. Wei. I greeted him with the usual greeting.
He nodded his head, and then went back to his "medical research," which entailed knocking on our door at 2 o’clock in the morning demanding to borrow our wok to mix his ginseng concoction. I giggled at the thought while I passed the mad scientist's lair into the wonderful aura of Szechwan style food. Mrs. Wing, for as long as I can remember, has always been trying to fatten me & je je up by making us elaborate ten course banquets with delicious bean-curd based dishes, fish oozing with the wonderful spices tickling our tongues and noses with anticipation of the culinary anomalies to come and deserts with sweet rice and fortified coconut. I shivered with glee at the thought.
"Wan an, Mrs. Wong, your cooking smells very good," I smiled, hoping for something to take.
"Ai, Mei Ling, nee how, you want some biscuits? I bake them just for you and Jing yee."
"No no, it’s okay," I said in the usual Chinese manner of total refusal unless of course the other party absolutely insists.
"Ai yah, Mei Ling, I have too many anyway!" she shoved the cookie tray into my chest and gently pushed me ahead.
"Shea shea ne" I answered with a huge smile on my face for I had gotten what I wanted.
I finally reached our flat, the largest one on the floor, and in the building. I wiped my shoes on the carpet and took them off, leaving them outside the door. Mamma is very superstitious, she and many other Chinese believe that if the shoes are inside the house and left at the door, this "vicious act" would bring bad luck to the family. We also keep a bat gua, which resembles an octagon with a mirror in the center, nailed to the top of the front door to keep bad spirits away from us.
When you turn the knob on our door and push it open, you walk straight into an atmosphere of peace and unity. Mamma is also very devoted to Feng Shui, which is the practice of the proper placement of objects in their surroundings so that "chi" can flow, allowing prosperity and knowledge reign supreme.
"Mei ling, don’t you forget to bai sin a goong" nagged mamma from the kitchen
"Okay, I will" and with that I took 3 steps left to a goong’s alter and bowed 3 times, showing my utter respect for him. A goong died before I was even born, he was a dormant member of the CCP, so my father had no respect for him, but since my father is the oldest of his 8 brothers, he’s responsible for keeping the altar. Baba is a typical Chinese f
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