I was bawling my eyes out as I read The Good Women of China by Xinran, a journalist who collected reality stories and somehow became a reservoirs for myriads of Chinese women in the late 80s and early 90s to share their story, often for the first time.
“The women who survived an earthquake” left me reeling with xinteng (“heart pain”) as a woman described how her 14 year old daughter was trapped between two collapsed buildings for 14 days and several hours before she died, still trapped.
No heavy machinery came.
People tried to use their hands and garden tools to dig her out to no avail.
Stories of children who survived the 1960’s and 70’s in China separated from parents and subjected to exploitation due to their extreme vulnerability, of an educated woman living with the garbage pickers, and a peek into the lives of women in a remote western cave dwelling village left me drained and thankful for peace, safety and feminine hygiene products.
As I eat lunch with a friend, her mother in law tells me how she met her husband while they both did countryside duty for 7-8 years.
Another couple tells us over a spread of homemade stuffed lotus root, roast duck, meat stuffed eggplant, sautéed mushrooms and fried tofu cubes how they met at age 16 and 18 while serving as soldiers during the Cultural Revolution.
Now they are in their 60’s, taking care of an orphan with developmental delays and pouring their heart into this little girl.
The Uyghur man who serves up our lamb skewers in a smoky BBQ-lined alley has a wife who just gave birth to their third child out in the far west somewhere in February.
I don’t think he has traveled back to see them yet.
I see the tall straight-backed man with a solid gaze and polished dress shoes pushing a recycling cart full of empty plastic bottles and wonder what his story is.
I am honored to live here and meet women and men who have a life unimaginably different from mine.