A Broadcast Accident

loudspeakerMy mom told me an interesting story this morning, something that she remembered last week with amusement and couldn’t help laughing out loud as she relayed it to me.

Shortly after she went to the university in the mid-1960’s, she was recruited into a group that was responsible for the campus daily broadcast during lunch hours. Since my mom grew up in Shanghai, her mandarin wasn’t really ‘standard’ enough to do broadcast, but the leader brushed it off and told her to do her best because they were really short-handed. One part of the group were broadcasters, mainly female, who spoke into a microphone and had their voices heard all over the campus; the other part were male operators, who were good with the equipment and ensured that it worked properly.

They worked in shifts to carry out the job – one broadcaster and one operator everyday. There were editors who provided materials for each broadcast – national and local news, quotes from the leaders, university events and announcements, excerpt from good articles, etc. It was an effective channel for students to get useful information as they were having lunch.

One day, my mom teamed up with a guy from her class as broadcaster and operator. The task was carried out smoothly and everything went well. Afterwards, they sat around and started chatting. Since both of them were from Shanghai, they spoke in Shanghai dialect and really felt the closeness shared by hometown fellows. They had a great time.

After twenty minutes, someone banged on the door and rushed in and demanded “what are you two doing?!”. They were in shock and said that they didn’t do anything bad, just had a chat. The interrupter explained that the whole campus had been listening in their chattering – apparently they forgot to turn off the machine. Since Shanghai dialect sounded like a foreign language in this northern university, people could only hear these two happy people enjoying their chat, without understanding the content. Well, they didn’t say anything anti-revolutionary or personal anyway.

Needless to say, they had to apologize afterwards. Since it was mainly his fault, he had to put in writing some rather harsh self-criticisms, something like a confession. For months they were the laughing stocks among their friends. They regretted their carelessness, but also appreciated that it could have been much worse.



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

A Book Project

David and I enjoy having walks together. If the weather is nice enough, we would walk to Panera Bread or Starbucks to have breakfast, or stroll around a nearby pond after dinner. As we walk, we talk about this and that, whatever comes to our minds at the moment. Some of our discussions were so weird and meaningless that we imagine the NSA people would roll their eyes if they had been listening in.

That said, these ‘walk talks’ generated lots of great ideas as well, such as the topic for a new book to write. David already has a long list of books waiting to be written, this one is for me. We even decided on a tentative title “China Interrupted”.

Our discussion started with my telling him about my mother’s family – my grandparents and their five children. My mother is the eldest and she got into college in the mid 60s. Then the cultural revolution began and lasted for ten years, during which the universities/schools were all shut down. As a result, the next three children – my three uncles – had no chance of getting college education. And when the cultural revolution ended in 1976, it was just in time for my aunt – the youngest of the five – to go to college. This sounds like the opposite of the Chinese tradition, where boys/men are expected to prosper in a household. My family story was not unique – it was only one of the millions of stories where a whole generation’s destiny was altered by history.

David thinks the book would be fascinating to the American audience, and resonate with the Chinese readers. I like the idea of writing down family stories. I mentioned this to my mom during a phone conversation, and she immediately started telling me stories. I should talk to each of my uncles and aunt, to get their perspectives. It would also be interesting to compare their lives with my generation – how we grew up, the opportunities we had, the one child policy, etc.

The plan is to start writing short stories on this blog, and organize them into a book later. I just started a new category, and plan to write one post every week. I am getting excited!

By the way, the photo below is a building in Shanghai’s Yu Garden, not my family home. 🙂