Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fragments of the Past II

Mother's Past

My parents aren't the kind who go on and on about their lives. What they do tell us come to us in short fragments, usually to highlight a point or just a fleeting moment of remembrance. Here I've pieced those fragments in a semi-linear fashion.

First a random fact: my mom's dad was born in Indonesia and was one of 3 brothers (I think he was the youngest). My mom's parents were pretty well off and could have probably been considered among the middle-class. My mom's mom liked to read and practice calligraphy and such. Then the Cultural Revolution came. Many of my mom's parents' friends were imprisoned or killed during the Cultural Revolution. No one spoke of anything intellectual. Children were brainwashed and trained to turn in anyone who dissented with the government: their neighbors, their friends, and even their own parents.

I think my mom's family lost a lot as my grandma had to hide her books or throw them away. Like everyone else who lived in/near the cities, they had to go to the countryside. My mom and her older brother worked the fields. She would tell us that there were no bathrooms in/near the fields. Instead, there was a large pit in the ground with two planks spanning it in parallel to each other. When you wanted to go, you would crouch by standing on those two planks and try not to fall in. Sometimes this was difficult as the heat of the sun would cause the smell to fume up and could make one dizzy. This waste matter wasn't "wasted" but rather used as fertilizer sometimes.

My mom wasn't the healthiest child. She suffered from random maladies and hated seeing the doctor. She would hide or throw away any pills given to her. Her parents would try to trick her to take her pills by crushing them and hiding them in her food, but my mom would just throw away her food if she detected medicine. Eventually she would have to get a shot to the butt full of the medicine she should've taken orally. At this point the doctors were still "in hiding" around the country, though I think people knew where one was if their services were needed. My mom was also a very picky eater as a child and her parents would sometimes worry that she was malnourished. At one point my mom actually started to eat a lot but mysteriously lost a lot of weight instead of gaining weight. One day when my mom was like 7, her dad saw something poking out of my mom's butt (gross, I know) after she went to the bathroom. So he pulled on it and this really long tapeworm came out. He promptly took my mom to the doctor who administered some medicine to kill what the parasite might have left behind in her digestive tract. I still shudder at the thought of it.

My grandma's health deteriorated and she could barely function. She smoked and suffered from asthma as well as a number of other illnesses. My mom's family didn't make enough to break even so my mom's dad spent years as a traveling salesman around China, sending back all the money he made. My mom's older brother was left as the head of household while her grandma took care of my mom's mom. There are some messed up stories there (concerning traditional Chinese medicine) that I won't get into here. Also my mom's younger brother was just a toddler. Every week my mom and her older brother would go buy groceries, not at a local store, but rather at an outdoor market where other farmers brought their goods. To get there, my mom and her brother would wait until a truck passed by along the road and would jump on with other people as it went by. If you couldn't make it then you didn't go that day.

My mom did recall going to school periodically during this time, somewhat on and off. She remembered having to memorize the Little Red Book (that she says was full of stupid propaganda) as well as other Communist ideas. Soon things were looking up though. My mom's mom took control of her health and started walking several kilometers a day and eventually even ran about 3K a day. She literally walked/ran herself back to health. My mom's dad earned and saved enough money to take bring his family to Hong Kong.

Within a month my mom started working part-time (I don't remember what she did, but some factory work I think) while going to school. She only made it as far as 10th grade. Like my dad, she went from no knowledge of Cantonese to functional and soon became fluent - what can you do, it was a necessity. My mom's older brother also had to stop his schooling a bit early I think, but my mom's mom wouldn't allow my mom's younger brother to stop his studies. In fact, he never had to work and was instead burdened with all the pressures of studying and doing well in school.
Part I Add-on: There was something interesting I forgot to say yesterday. As a kid, my dad once stepped on a rusty nail and got very sick. He became feverish, lost control of his muscles, and then his muscles started to spasm and contract violently. His dad took him to the local doctor in India who diagnosed it as tetanus. There was nothing the doctor could do and he said my dad needed to be taken to a doctor in the city about 3-4 days away. My dad's condition worsened and the tetanus was creeping closer to his lungs. Obviously, he made it, got the medicine, and survived without any lasting repercussions. Otherwise I wouldn't be here today.
That was the end of part 2. Tomorrow, part 3.


Anonymous said...

Vermicology, there's a fun field of study. Today they would just give your mom Ivomec, which kills just about anything parasitic in the body.

Hypnos said...

Both stories are amazing. I think that a lot of people had amazing stories, you should hear what my parents and I survived :)