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My Mother and Me

时间:2010-11-01 10:21:31  来源:Stories of GLV  作者:Hong Xiuping

Many people want me to share the story of my career with them, which is unworthy of mentioning compared to my mother’s experiences. Therefore, I’d like to tell some stories about my mother and hopefully those stories will demonstrate her behavior and spirit and her influence on my studies and life.


* My Mother and Me, the Childhood Years of Hong Xiuping *
My childhood was filled with happiness. We used to live in the courtyard home belonging to my mother’s second eldest uncle. There were grape and dart trees, creating a cozy atmosphere. My mother’s second eldest uncle and aunt considered the kids, including me, as their own grandchildren and my sisters and I called them grandpa and grandma in return, which resulted in creating a big family. I was the only boy in the family, so the grandparents and the other children fussed over me a lot.
My mother’s second eldest uncle graduated from Zhejiang University and was a famous civil engineer in Hangzhou. All of his children were very intelligent and they graduated from renowned universities. Being part of such a learned family had a very positive effect on all the younger children. Those uncles and aunts were my role models. It suddenly occurs to me that my mother’s decision to move our home into that courtyard probably is the best one she’s ever made. Neighbors can have a significant influence over the children, which explains the story of the mother of Mencius who moved three times in a row and China’s old saying,” eighty percent of the money for the house purchase goes to selecting the neighbors.”
When I was young, I was in poor health. My mother fussed over me more than my three elder sisters. She always left all the good things that she found to my father and me. She and my sisters always worked the most and ate the worst. Sometimes my sisters complained about her preference a little bit, but they still loved me and took care of me. They still left all the good food for me when my mother went out to work. When they started to work outside, apart from sending money back to my mother, they even used their limited spare money to buy me stationery. Usually we didn’t have any good dishes except stir-fried salty sesame with flour, so I still remember the seven-cents worth of Chinese pancakes and a deep-fried twisted bread sticks on one of my birthdays. They were so delicious and satisfying.
Although I was the only boy in the family, and my mother was vigilant about my health, she didn’t really pamper me in other ways. When I was young, a lot of children in the neighborhood went to swim in the West Lake. The depth of that lake varies a lot in different places and there were drowning accidents every year. Many parents worried about their children’s safety and tried to prevent them from swimming there. However, I always swam in the lake in the morning and my mother never discouraged me from doing that, which, I believe, successfully cultivated my confidence and character and probably helped me to develop physically.
As my mother hoped, I grew up safely. At that time, I didn’t have any idea about how hard and difficult her life was, for I didn’t know how poor we were. Firstly, I was too young to know that; secondly, everything was evenly distributed then and you could hardly tell the difference between people so my happiness was no less than others even though my family was poor with regard to material possessions.
* A Rebellious Period *
Junior high is the most sensitive and self-conscious period for many children and it was then that I realized that there was a huge gap in terms of wealth between many other students and me. Many students came from families with learned or cadre backgrounds and lived a good life. Some classmates went to my home and were astonished by its poverty. I started to feel ashamed and inferior to live in such a family. I couldn’t change the fact that I was born into a poor family, but I could change my own destiny. I felt that I needed to leave my home and go as far as possible so that nobody would know my family background. This was my constant wish during the junior high school years.
At that time, I thought lessons were useless and not related to the real world. I got tired of studying and wanted to go back home to learn some skills, so that I could become a plumber or a bicycle mender or whatever job showed itself to me. For a certain period of time, I didn’t go to the school, as I was considering going out to obtain some skills. My mother heard about that and criticized me severely. Children dropping out of school to work would surely reduce the economic burden and a lot of families did that. However my mother was far-sighted and wanted me to change my destiny through education and she would go to great lengths to make that happen.
* Coincidence *
English was my least favorite subject in the junior high. I thought it was boring and useless, nothing but reciting words and tests. I thought it was really a waste of time. Once I deliberately handed in an unanswered examination paper and got a score of zero. I was proud of myself for I had dared to follow in the footsteps of the Unanswered Examination Paper Hero-Zhang Tiesheng and challenged the established authority.
I was changed by a small incident. One day, I was walking around West Lake and came across some foreigners. I went forward to say hello to them as others would do. Unexpectedly, the foreigners began to chat with me. I asked them some simple questions with my lame English like, “Are you married?” ”How old are you?” ”How much do you earn every month?” Foreigners were really rare in China at that time, so many people gathered around us and looked at the foreigners talking to me, just a junior high student. I was so excited and proud.
From then on, my interest in English surged to a record high and no longer did I think that English was useless. It could help me know the world and make new friends. In those days, we were told that we were so fortunate for we had been born into a new society and lived under the red flag. There were still two-thirds of the world population living in extreme misery and we should cherish what we had. After the reform and opening-up, we came to know the outside world through TV; especially important was Deng Xiaoping’s state visit to America. It dawned on me that America was so beautiful and rich, all of them seemed to live in heaven. I immediately made a fateful decision. I would learn English well and go abroad to take a look at the interesting outside world.
There was a popular saying in China that stated, “You will have no trouble throughout the world once you've learned math, physics and chemistry well.”
I was originally placed in the advanced science class, but I transferred into the arts class after that encounter with the foreigners. Arts classes were considered to be reserved for the slow-learners and the ones who didn’t like to study, science students with good academic results usually refused to go there. When my teacher heard that I would move to the arts class, he was very surprised for he believed that I could do well in math, physics and chemistry and would probably be admitted to a science university. Nevertheless, I had decided to learn English well in order to go abroad to realize my dreams.
I buried myself in English studies and miraculously I entered Nanking PLA University of Foreign Languages, which was an important university. In those days, either joining the army or going to the university was a good chance to change the destinies of the young people. My friends and family were very happy and proud, especially my father, who went around telling others. The students who went into the army schools didn’t need to pay any fees. In fact, those students got extra pocket money from the government but that was not my motive to go to the army school, I didn’t intend to reduce my family’s economic burden. All I cared about was to leave home, leave Hangzhou and be beyond the reach of my family. It was said that there was a possibility for the students to go abroad and live in foreign countries asmilitary attachés after graduating from that university. The chances to go abroad then were extremely few and therefore any chance available had me fantasizing that I could somehow go. I had lofty dreams and expectations.
* Pursuing Freedom *
Surprising even myself, I found that I wanted to drop out again during the last year in the university. I preferred to leave the army and to have an unconstrained life. In addition, there were more opportunities to go abroad outside the army thanks to the reform and opening-up. It didn’t matter whether I had a degree or not as long as I had real skills and knowledge. My mother was very worried and went to Nanking with my eldest brother-in-law, trying to talk me out of it. I never would have thought that my mother would go to Nanking given the fact that she had never taken a long-distance trip. Leaders in the university who also didn’t support my dropout were very happy to see them and arranged time for me to take my mother and brother-in-law to tour around the Mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and the Nanking Yangtze River Bridge. That was the first time I ever traveled with my mother. She pleaded with me to finish my studies and I finally agreed that I would.
After graduation, I was dispatched to Kaifeng, Henan Province and later transferred to Shangqiu, doing some teaching and paperwork. In 1985, there was an extensive disarmament and I left the army easily and went back to Hangzhou. With the help of my bachelor’s degree and good spoken English, I joined the Hangzhou International Travel Agency and became a tour guide as well as a translator. When I was young, I had always waited at the gates of the restaurants for the foreigners near West Lake so I could talk with them. I really admired those guides who could be with the foreigners in and out of the restaurants freely all day long. My work with the travel agency helped me achieved a childhood dream.
* Studying Abroad *
Once I was out of the army school, I was relaxed and free again, but my poor background still haunted me. When the travel agency began to provide dormitories to the single men and women, I was the first one to apply, as I didn’t want to take my friends home to embarrass myself again. My mother didn’t object to my decisions to move out and to further my study abroad. In 1988, I successfully passed TOEFL and the Graduate Record Examination and secured a full scholarship, including all the academic and living costs, at the prestigious Purdue University in America’s middle west. What’s more, I easily got my passport and visa with the help of my friends and relatives.
Accompanied by my mother and eldest sister, I embarked on my journey to America from Shanghai in September, 1988. I expected a lot in the new world I was entering while I didn’t have too much regret or sentimental attachment to my family, just like the day I left home for the army school. I was exceptionally confident that I would flex my muscles with my fluent English and the American friends I made when I was still in the travel agency.
In America, I received more than six hundred dollars from the university every month, not to mention the zero tuition fees. Compared with other government-sent Chinese students who only got four hundred dollars, mine was fairly high. They usually spent just around two hundred dollars each month, sending the rest of money back home to buy some valuable appliances like refrigerators and TV sets. In those days, ordinary workers earned little and appliances were very rare and expensive. Most families could hardly afford one single big appliance in their lifetime. Overseas students from China always shared an apartment with other Chinese and seldom talked to the American students. From the very beginning, I had decided to adopt the local way of life and to enter into social circles. Therefore I paid a high rent to live in the graduate students’ apartment building and hung out with students from different countries. I went to the coffee houses, bars and other places, going to great lengths to be friends with them by imitating their life. Rarely did I remember to send some money back home to alleviate the burdens of my mothers and sisters. Even now I still feel guilty for not honoring the fact that they had done so much for me as I was growing up.
* Loneliness *
Three months after my arrival in America, all the curiosities and excitement faded away. Although I didn’t have any problem understanding the movies and TV shows or communicating with the teachers and classmates, I wasn’t able to make one close friend during the first six months. Never had I felt so lonely and lost. I strolled the campus alone like a wandering ghost without either a Chinese friend or a foreign one.
It surprised me how I could have felt in hell when I was living in what I originally considered as heaven. My friends back in China and my family members were all proud of me for my great leap to America, so I was too ashamed to tell them my true feelings.
* An Enlightening Seminar *
During the period when I felt lost, an American woman who had lectured extensively about China for years, held a seminar about Chinese culture at my university. Out of curiosity, I asked some American classmates to go to that seminar with me. She shared with us the experiences she had in China. I used to be a guide and I was aware of the fact that most foreign visitors would typically live in fancy hotels, travel by Japanese air-conditioned buses, visit a variety of cities and take a lot of photos.
But she was different from the ordinary foreign tourists. She visited a lot of alleys and streets as well as every corner in the countryside. What’s more, she lived with Chinese families and took many pictures of Chinese traditional life like Chinese children and older people who led a simple and poor life but had big smiles from ear to ear. Those pure smiles really struck a chord in me and aroused my long-buried sentiments.
That night I couldn’t fall asleep, my thoughts racing.
I am a Chinese rather than an American. I couldn’t easily turn myself into an American just because I wanted to, for I now knew for sure that blood is, indeed, thicker than water. My heart would always be a Chinese heart and even my stomach couldn’t get used to the American food. My favorite food continued to be Chinese pancakes and deep-fried twisted bread sticks.
Hell and heaven exist in our hearts. We are what we are, rather than what others think we are. Happiness and sorrows have little relevance to material acquisitions. Spiritual life is free and separate from a materialistic life. We could suffer hellishly while living in what we thought was heaven. We could also enjoy heavenly happiness in what is considered hell. Suddenly it occurred to me that all my efforts in trying to gain spiritual ballast through material means were all in vain.
That seminar was really enlightening to me. I felt I belonged there for the first time ever since I had arrived in America. My feelings then were fully demonstrated by a famous Chinese poet, Xin Qiji’s poem which states, “Home is where the heart is.” This is a saying heard around the world in many languages and seems to be an essential truth. The most important home is the spiritual one. Only when we find inner peace and tranquility can we know who we are and find our home. All these feelings didn’t conform to the instructions I received when I was young, like “social being determines social consciousness,” or “material determines spirit.”                        .
That night, all the American friends I invited to go with me were touched by Chinese customs. They all expressed their intentions to visit China. Their enthusiasm made me feel proud to be a Chinese in America for the first time ever. That American woman was Jene Bellows, whose Chinese name was Bei Jinyu. I found myself so ignorant and shallow, barely aware of Chinese culture and the spirit of China. From then on, I started to introduce my hometown and family to others, inviting them to visit China and my family. In the following years, some of my friends, including Jene Bellows did come to China and visited my family. They were all impressed by the warm hospitality of my mother and sisters. In addition, Jene Bellows and I became close friends, defying the age gap. She later settled down in Zhuhai with her musician husband and made a great contribution to the successful opening of GLV.
* Transformation *
 The world changed itself once I changed myself. I began to make friends with people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, America and Africa. My life gradually changed for the better with my renewed positive outlook and outgoing character.
   I successfully got my master’s degree from Purdue University in 1990. I didn’t learn much from the books, but I did come to have a great wealth of knowledge and culture from my different friends from around the world. I wasn’t able to secure a suitable job after graduation due to my non-skill based major of liberal arts, and the sluggish economy in America then. I was living in a friend’s house in Chicago when an international fund invited me to inspect the education in the countryside of Colombia. It was there that I met my future wife.
In order to save enough money to go back to Colombia to get married, I decided to look for jobs after returning to America. In those days, I couldn’t even pay my rent on time. With advice from my friends, I mustered up my courage to go knocking from door- to- door, willing to try anything to get a job. My efforts really paid off, for I found three part-time jobs in one single day. The first one was a nighttime guard in a nursing home, the second as a receptionist at a motel, the third as a clerk in a book store. Except for the fairly high wage in the book store, the other two jobs paid just five dollars an hour - the minimum wage in America.
These jobs were not very edifying, especially the one in the nursing home. I had to be on duty throughout the night and clean the corridors the next morning. Those terrifyingly dark corridors and terribly stinky dustbins were a personal challenge to be endured. However, I needed to bear all of those things for survival and my marriage. Money came with work and I no longer felt depressed. None of my friends looked down upon me for the ignoble positions. A few months’ work not only helped me to pay off all the rent, but allowed me to save enough money to fly to Colombia to get married. I really regret not working like that right after graduation, for otherwise I needn’t have experienced all the agonies while I lived in my friend’s place without a so-called, suitable, job.
I went alone to Colombia to tie the knot, with my parent’s blessing. The friends and relatives on my wife’s side were very friendly, cheerful and vivacious. I mailed my wedding pictures back home and they were pleased, giving away wedding candies and showing the pictures to others. After the marriage, I got a better job with a higher salary, but I felt like that America was not where I belonged and I couldn’t envision any future there, especially since cars and big houses no longer intrigued me.
* Back Home *
   In March, 1993, our son came into the world. I immediately passed this joyful information to family. My mother made a lot of red eggs and distributed them among our relatives and friends to celebrate. Meanwhile, the fund which had invited me to Colombia, asked us to manage a poverty-elimination education program which was set up by the fund and a local association for science and technology in Hainan, China.
   Although I was utterly ignorant about the countryside, that was a great opportunity for my career development back in China. Few of my friends could understand my decision to move back to China to work before I got an American green card. My wife had never come to China and assumed that China would be as developed as Japan, which was certainly not true. She was really surprised when she found out that China was even less developed than Colombia.
    I took my wife and son back home to visit my family for the first time that autumn. The hospitality from my mother and kind attentions from my relatives soon won the respect of my wife. I didn’t bring any present with me except my adorable son, which was more than enough to impress our relatives and friends, and to make my mother extremely happy.
* Regrets *
   I worked for that fund for about a year before I met a Hainan Airlines HR manager by accident and transferred to take a position there. When I was working in Hainan, I invited my parents to come live with us for six months. I was very pleased to have the chance to spend the time with them and to let them be part of my new family’s happiness. That was the first time they traveled by air or lived in a high-rise apartment with elevators. My father pushed the buggy with my son inside for a walk every day. The adorable doll face of his grandson turned a lot of heads, which left my father particularly happy and proud.
Two years later, our daughter was born. My mother had to look after my cancer-stricken father. It was my wife’s mother who flew all way to China to take care of my wife and daughter. On the Mid-Autumn’s Day of the following year, we headed for Hangzhou to have a reunion with my parents, but my father passed away as we were traveling home.
My father’s character and nature changed a lot in his later years, especially after he was found ill with cancer. He began to share our troubles and worries and became nicer to my mother. He couldn’t stop talking about the good things regarding my mother and the loyalty and devotion of his children. I thought about asking for leave to visit him a lot of times, but he didn’t want to cause any trouble and insisted that we not go back until holidays. In his last years, he was still thinking of us. He left us before he had an opportunity to see his granddaughter. To this day it is a regret I carry with me.
* Being Open-minded *
My mother had been with us since my father left us, taking care of her grandchildren and doing the housework. My job was unstable, transferring from Qionghai, through Haikou and Guangzhou to Zhuhai, where I opened GLV. My mother was a little worried about me, for she knew that I lacked managerial experiences. She really hoped that I could lead a happy life with a stable job, unlike my father who led a very harsh life with unstable jobs.
With the development of GLV and her status now as an “elder,” my mother hated to trouble others and moved back to Hangzhou to live by herself near her long-time friends and neighbors. The resettlement apartment we got from the government was on the sixth floor without elevators; it was extremely inconvenient for her to climb all the stairs as she had high blood pressure. However, she cherished it a lot because it was a place where she and my father had been together. I pleaded with my mother repeatedly before she finally agreed to come back to Zhuhai to live with us.
In July, 2005, we moved into a new house, much closer to my mother’s house. I asked my children to go to their grandmother’s place to say hello first after school every day. I told them that that was their most important homework and they would benefit from it forever. I really expected them to understand it more fully in the future
* Seeking Roots *
When I was still in the university, I went to my mother’s hometown where I witnessed abject poverty in my uncle’s family. However, I did feel the warm hospitality from the country folks. Although I live in Hangzhou, I don’t have the sense of belonging there any more especially as these years have witnessed all the alleys wiped out and replaced with forests of concrete and cement. Nevertheless, I can find my roots in my mother’s hometown. “The city is to meet the physical needs, while the countryside is to fill the empty heart,” as a Persian philosopher remarked long ago.
My mother always remembers the people who have helped us. A cousin on my mother’s side used to take care of us and my mother really wanted to find him. Upon hearing that his son worked in Wenzhou, she immediately told me look for him with nothing but a family name. I even entrusted some GLV students from Wenzhou with this task, but all efforts turned out to be in vain. I couldn’t tell her that we couldn’t find this doctor with only a family name in Wenzhou where there were thousands of hospitals covering a large area.
I took my mother back to her hometown the year before last. She remembered that the daughter of her cousin worked in Qingtian Post Office. I tried there and found my mother’s cousin easily. That was really a joyful gathering after such a long time. He and his wife took their grandchildren to Zhuhai to travel and study at GLV, which pleased my mother very much, for she had realized a long-held dream.
In the summer of 2004, the whole family went to visit my uncle who made a harsh living on the land, as well as my mother’s sister and her husband who had retired and lived in Qingtian. We also went to visit the tombs of my grandparents on my mother’s side and offer sacrifices to them. What’s more, I took my uncle with me back to Zhuhai, letting him take a look at the outside world.
In June, 2006, with the guidance of my mother, I took my son to revisit Qingtian to look for my ancestors due to the influence of my studies about Confucianism. That was our first time to search for my paternal grandfather’s tomb. The step-son of my paternal grandfather and his children heard about this and made preparations for us. At grandfather’s tomb, my son and I followed my mother to burn incense and to offer sacrifices to him. After that, we visited our memorial temple. In the family tree book, I was surprised to find my own name. I didn’t know a lot about the family tree book, but I did hope to have one to know the history of my ancestors.
On the Tomb-sweeping Festival in March, 2007, I joined the opening ceremony of Hangzhou GLV before I went to my grandfather’s home, burning incenses and offering sacrifices at his reconstructed tomb and asking his spirit to pray for us for a safe and happy life. This really delighted my mother.
* Grateful for Favors Received *
All my accomplishments couldn’t be achieved without my mother’s nurturing. She adopted her way to treat people and things from my maternal grandparents. I should be grateful for the favors I receive and return the favors. I have the responsibility and obligation to help my relatives to become strong and independent, honoring all the deceased ancestors.
I call my mother a GLV Board Chairwoman who can lead us to the future. A quality-oriented education is promoted vigorously in the schools, while the key is to have teachers with good qualities. However, parents are actually much more important than teachers, for family is the most important school. The family plays the most important role in shaping the characteristics, personality and quality of the children. As for culture and customs, they are difficult to learn and can only be passed down through the daily examples and instructions of the parents.
* GLV Confucian Academy *
Although my mother has never received any formal education, her wisdom, her beliefs about the way to treat people and things are much better than many highly-educated people. This is a phenomenon worth thinking about, especially for those of us who are in the education community. What's the most important task of education? Is it to pass along knowledge or to cultivate and nurture people? Does our education care about nothing except knowledge and skills?
    My English is better than my ancient Chinese. I know more about western religions and history than Chinese traditional culture and history, which embarrasses me. I am glad that the school where my daughter studies is organizing the students to study classic ancient Chinese. I really hope my children can develop good habits and qualities at an early age and don't follow in the footsteps of their father who started to be filial towards parents only in his thirties and didn't understand any truth about life until his forties.
     As GLV’s good reputation spreads, many people find me to talk about opening a GLV branch school, making full use of China’s English-learning fever. However, I am more interested in establishing a cultural academy and studying the traditional Chinese culture more thoroughly.
On June 22nd, 2005, Xin Lijian President of Guangzhou XinfuEducation Group, and I, went to Guizhou to visit contemporary Confucian scholar-Jiang Qing. His ambitions and wishes resonated with us and the tranquil and cozy atmosphere deeply impressed us. I began to consider setting up a cultural academy. With the help of many people who shared my ambitions and ideas, I opened GLV Cultural Academy at the foot of Banzhang Hill.
The future comes after the past. My mother cultivated and nurtured her children with sincerity and kindness. I hoped that my academy could serve to pass down the spirit of my mother's generation, which is expressed as, “Dynamic as heaven, inclusive as earth.” I hope to cultivate many talents who are proficient in both western and oriental culture and are good in both personal qualities and studies, making contributions to the rejuvenation of China and world peace.

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