Last Thursday at 10:30 pm, my mother Mary passed away. It was quick, which I’m thankful for. She did not suffer. She had been living in a nursing home for several years — the last two years of her life in a steady decline. Thursday night her breathing became labored, so they put her on oxygen, but the levels kept dropping, until… the inevitable. I was not even in Wuxi at the time, but in Changzhou, in the middle of judging a senior high school speech competition. My brother wanted to speak to me on the phone, but there I was stuck in a hotel without the ability to make a long distance call to Canada. So the news came by email first. I mouthed the words slowly, as though English suddenly became alien and I forgot meaning and grammar. It was odd to receive such explosive news that way. Is this the price I pay for my adopted lifestyle? I was always fascinated why my mother chose or was given the biblical name of Mary for her Canadian identity. It suggests that she was destined to marry a solid man and bear saintly children.
One of the big draws of Shanghai is People’s Square and People’s Square Park. Prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, People’s Square served as a course for horse racing, appropriately named the Shanghai Racing Club, open to elite members of Shanghai society. When the communist government was established, horse racing and all its charms were considered decadent, so the area was converted into the municipal government’s headquarters. Over the years various attractions have been added to lure visitors. The Shanghai Art Museum is worth a glance and some fanciful, ultra-modern buildings like the Shanghai Grand Theater or the Hong Kong New World Tower will stimulate architecture buffs. A longstanding event has endured among the glittering towers and lush gardens of People’s Park, attracting unwanted tourists and the curious. The “Marriage Market” gathers every Saturday and Sunday, where parents flock to the north end of the park from noon until 5:00 pm to get their daughters or sons matched. It was an unexpected sight to stumble upon as I walked through People’s Park with friends one November weekend.
This is why I’ve been so quiet the past few months. I was stuck. And sometimes I just don’t want to air my dirty business on the blog. Or maybe you want to read about that guy who never texted me back after our date (his name rhymes with ‘alone’ – I’m not joking) or how that girl in a canary yellow helmet nearly snuffed my life out. I was standing, she was riding an ebike, and our bodies met in the most obtrusive manner. Luckily only my right hand and thigh got nicked. And then there’s China. After the rampant discrimination I’ve faced in the past two months, my enchantment with China was over. I was ready to punch it in the face. Them: “You look Chinese.” Me: “Uh huh.” Them: “Oh, you look Chinese.” Me: “Nooo, you look Chinese.” Them: “You know, you look Chinese.” Me: “Oh, you don’t say, I always thought I resembled her.” I’ve never had to explain my face so much before. It made me lose heart in China. For a country that is developing at rapid speed, their openness to the world is smaller than I guessed. I wonder if the country can balance culture and technology as Japan has done so successfully.