My grandfather from my dad’s side came to Indonesia from China by boat in his youth carrying a single suitcase. Only in recent years that I knew at that time he also left a wife and two children. He later married my grandmother and never went back to his birth country. He’s my closest link to China, as though my other grandparents were also Chinese descendants, they were all born and raised in Indonesia and probably even my great grandparents.
My grandfather died when I was in third grade. What I remember of him now is an old figure sitting in his chair down the hall, drinking whiskey like water, but was never drunk. My dad was his favorite son and my mom his favorite daughter in law, which naturally made me his favorite granddaughter. We visited my grandparents’ house every other week. Whenever we came over, there would be fried noodle bought from a famous street vendor nearby — reserved for his favorite family, and a bunch of longan — reserved especially for me.
What I know about China is mostly stories from my dad — a man who is very fond of the country he always considers as second home, though he only visited it a few times in his life for work. He always tries to transfer his pride of being Chinese to his kids, though I always think of it as cultural and ethnic baggage that follows me everywhere when what I want is just to belong.
I’ve never been to China and I don’t speak its language. But I think I should start embracing my roots and know more about this mysterious country where all began, many generations before me.
Then came the China challenge..
1 September 2009 – 1 September 2010
I have read a few books about Chinese immigrants (most of them by Amy Tan), because it’s something I can relate to, but I probably have read very few books set in China by Chinese authors. Something I need to rectify. And apparently in this challenge, Chinese immigrants story don’t count. The majority of the setting must be in China (including Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet, and Taiwan). Check out books I’ve read on China/Chinese.
Ideally I’m aiming for Fast Train to Shanghai which requires us to read 5 books about China (1 should be by Chinese author and 1 nonfiction). Okay, ideally I’d be able to go for Hiking the Great Wall (read 10 books), but let’s be reasonable and aim low first.
I already have quite a few books sitting on my shelf, and they are:
- Waiting by Ha Jin (1999 PEN/Faulkner and National Book Award)
- The Crazed by Ha Jin
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
- Mr. Muo’s Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie
- Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
- Wild Swans by Jung Chang (memoir)
- The Good Women of China by Xinran (memoir)
- Bound Feet & Western Dress by Pang-Mei Chang (memoir)
- The Cave of the Yellow Dog by Byambasuren Davaa (set in Tibet)
And I’d like to finish The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I didn’t finish it the last time because it got too depressing. I got to the point where the wife just gave birth and had to eat a few beans to survive (my gosh, talking about depressing). Now that I think about it, is there any China-theme books that is upbeat and happy?
My mom and one of my dearest auntie like to watch Chinese dramas and the characters always cry buckets. The one I remember the most was this one drama I also watched with mom when I was younger (around primary school). It’s about a young beautiful widow who falls in love with a man. At that time a widow in China is expected to never marry again until she dies, to be loyal and faithful forever to the dead husband so to speak. But the woman perseveres to be united with her lover. Somehow in order to do that she needs to pass through 9 gates which along the way was filled with condemning people from the village, ready to throw stones and do other cruel things to the supposedly unfaithful widow. This was required by the family of the deceased husband because otherwise they would lose face. The 9 gates represent 9 generations of her husband’s ancestors that she needs to ask forgiveness from. If she survives, they’d let her go.
Going back to books before it gets too long, do you have any China-theme books to recommend? I’d love to hear suggestions!
Books I read so far
- American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (finished 10/09, rating 4/5)
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (finished 12/09, rating 4.5/5)
- Waiting by Ha Jin (finished 01/10, rating 5/5)
- The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (finished 03/10, rating 4.5/5)
- Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang (finished 06/10, rating 4.5/5)