Reconnected after 45 years

My mom just returned from a class reunion in Shanghai, where she met 10 old friends that she had not seen for 45 years. She was very happy and excited.

These were her college classmates at Harbin Institute of Technology. Actually they were only together for a little over a year before the Cultural Revolution disrupted everything. My mom became part of a performance group where she met my dad and spent most of her time there before being sent off to a village to be re-educated. She did not feel particularly close to this class therefore did not stay in touch after ‘graduation’. That’s why she was so shocked when she got a call from one of them a week ago and learned about all their efforts trying to find her.

They checked their old school record and found her address in Beijing, which was my grandparents’ apartment for decades but now it is a big construction site. They found the real estate developer and the contact number there was my parents’ home phone which was no longer in service. They searched for her online, contacted several alumni networks, asked her previous employers, with no luck. Then they solicited ‘help’ from someone who has access to the resident registration records and found her ID and an address in Changchun. After comparing her ID photo with their memories and agreeing that it was indeed the right person, they sent one of them to Changchun to check out the address.

Luckily the place is still there. This is the apartment we lived in while we were in Changchun in early to mid-90s. After we moved away, we half-gave half-sold it to my ex in-laws. Actually they stayed with their son in the US most of the time, so it is really fortunate that they happened to be in Changchun at the moment. My mom’s friend knocked on the door, nobody answered. He knocked on the neighbor’s door, the neighbor only knew we moved away. He was quite disappointed and headed downstairs to leave. Then he ran into my ex in-laws in the stairway a few floors below. Seeing that they were about the same age, he decided to try his luck and ask them. Bingo! Even though the phone number they had was a few years old, it was the right number. My mom was found at the long last!

The class included 20 students – 17 guys and 3 gals. Five of them have passed away, one is yet to be found. Out of the remaining 14, 11 showed up in Shanghai this time. Pretty remarkable considering that 8 of them had to travel from elsewhere, and all of them are 70+ years old. They had a wonderful time together, chatting about old times and friends, their experiences in the Cultural Revolution, their trials and tribulations over the years, their current living arrangements, their children and grandchildren… Time is too short, but they will definitely have other get-togethers and continue their story-telling…

Mom reunion

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Together at Last

My parents were married in May 1970. My sister was born 14 months later. Then I came to this world in 1974. My sister and I didn’t grow up together though. In fact, I only met her twice during the first six years of my life – once with mom and once with dad. Therefore, the four of us were never all together in one place until 1980. Unbelievable, isn’t it? This is just another example of how individual families were affected by national events.

A map would help to show the different places that were significant to my family.

NE map

  • Harbin (at the top) – the location of my parents’ university where they met and fell in love.
  • Beijing (at the lower left) – my mother’s family, about 1,200 km/750 miles from Harbin.
  • Changchun (southwest of Harbin) – my father’s family. We finally settled here starting 1980.
  • Siping (southwest of Changchun, in red) – a small city where my parents worked and lived from 1970 to 1979.

Our fates were totally altered by my grandfather’s great admiration of Harbin Institute of Technology. He decided to send his oldest daughter there for college education even though there were plenty of great universities in Beijing. The policy then was that college graduates would be assigned jobs in the city where they came from. So my grandpa thought that four years away from home wouldn’t be too bad for my mom. How could he ever know that the Cultural Revolution would disrupt his plan, and everything else pretty soon.

Neither of my parents’ family background was ‘red’ – my mother’s father was an ‘anti-revolutionary intellectual’; my father’s father was accused of being a spy for the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). By the time they ‘graduated’ in 1970, going back to their home cities was out of the question, especially Beijing. So they had to take on jobs in the small city of Siping. The little 1.5-room shed they were assigned to live had no kitchen, no toilet, no sewage, was hot in summer and cold in winter. It was not a place to raise a child. And when everything was controlled by the state, there was no way of renting or buying a place even if they had the money.

This was why my sister was born and grew up in Beijing with maternal grandparents, while I was born and grew up in Changchun with paternal grandparents. During this time, I made two trips to Beijing and two trips to Siping while my sister never left Beijing nor met her paternal grandparents. My parents finally manged to move to Changchun in 1979 after persistently applying for quota, then my sister left Beijing to join us in 1980. The four members of my family could live together under one roof at long last.

There were lots of incredible stories during these early years of my life. I will definitely write about them in future posts.