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Zhang Xiaowen

Ginling College

Everyone’s life is a story in which we can see true experience and feelings. When my grandma told me about her story, she mentioned her home. It meant different things to her as time went and situations changed. She said that it took her whole life to discover and understand the meanings of home. It was her lifelong task and always affected her life.

She started the story from the period when she was still a young girl. She was born as the oldest child of a poor family and had to take care of her little brother and sisters for her parents were striving to make a living during those tough years. This much sounded like the life that many traditional Chinese young girls in poor families would always live and according to the fixed pattern of story, they probably would drop out of school and be fully devoted to their families. This was partly true when it happened to my grandma. She did quit study at early age because of the hard situation. However, she really loved reading and kept this hobby in daily life to improve herself. She never let the burden of home be a barrier to what was ahead. Unfortunately, she lost her youngest sister by accident and experienced intense sorrow. Thus, she cherished her family members and deeply realized the importance of home. To her, home was the integrity of family and to grow up together with her brothers and sisters.

Grandma wanted to be different even though she accepted the traditional marriage and constructed a new family with the man chosen by her parents. Since then, she began to have another home in her life. She didn’t fall in love with him then and just thought that maybe home meant that two people live together even forever in spite of no romantic relations between them. She dealt with routine housework and at the same time helped with her husband’s work. It made her feel bound to stay at home and do nothing outside home. Therefore, she tried various jobs no matter how difficult they were and even planned to be self-employed. She once became a farmer, a cleaner, a babysitter, a salesperson and afterwards ran a noodle restaurant by herself. They both worked hard and achieved their own success. During this period, grandma held the view that home was two people fighting for one common goal and collective creation of a better life.

As she grew older, she became a mother of two children. The family got larger and she needed to spend more time and energy to attend to them. Her brother and sisters also gradually had their own families, which brought great changes to the former home she lived in. That was still her home whenever she wanted to return. There was a wish for the home where parents were all good and regular reunion took place. In her eyes, the distinctions between homes lay in different people and different feelings and memories. She loved to enjoy the moment when the whole huge family gathered in one place, because only this time could show the home they owned directly and completely. Back then, home meant having more and more beloved people, which were the reason for her hard work.

Wearing a peaceful smile, she told me the end of the story. She is now in her seventies and living a happy life with grandpa. But many things have changed, all except this small house which once witnessed their past life. At present, home is a place that contains all of her memories and where the rest of her life will belong. When someone is old, it’s easy to become more attached to home, especially for her. What she wants now is to finish her life with people she loves and without any regrets.

And in these peaceful years, she still conducts simple work such as gardening. She is always a person unwilling to fiddle about all day and tries her best to make herself feel fulfilled. Grandma keeps perfecting her life as she strives for home and learns about its meanings. She never yields to the pressures arising from home, instead, she transforms them to be potential motives to pursue her values. To some extent, home exists as a witness of her whole life. Just like what my grandma said, this story will be sure to have a good ending.

“Stubborn” Love

Fang Shu

Ginling College

I am Sue. I am a stubborn girl. My parents’ temper is also not so good. However, it’s us – three people with seemingly contradictory characteristics that create a warm home filled with love.

My father is a reserved man who tends to hide his true feelings deep in his heart. He is not good at expressing his own emotions. He doesn’t bother about small matters in daily life. On the contrast, my mother is a rationalist and a realist who is passionate about her work and life. She desires perfection and even pays great attention to the least important trifles. And I, as the crystal of their love, I am just like the neutral product of their characteristics but maybe not a good chemistry. In my mother’s view, I am sensitive, lazy and passive exactly carved from my father’s mold. In my father’s opinion, I am too obstinate to change my views and always critical about tiny things just like my mother. But in fact, I would like to give myself higher marks. Maybe my parents haven’t found that smugness is also one of my shortcomings.

Since my childhood, my parents never stopped arguing. It’s really rare for them to have similar opinions. They will argue about choices of careers, expenditure of entertainment or daily life, and even the colors of toothbrushes. Both of them with obstinacy rooted deeply in their blood certainly won’t take a step back in quarrels. After the unpleasant squabbles, childish things come again. In order to prove and emphasize they are right, they will not talk to each other. I become the unfortunate victim of the ‘cold war’. As a considerate kid, I have to take the great responsibility of icebreaking. Generally, not even after half a day, my father will come to me and secretly ask “Is your mother still angry? Why don’t you have a look at your mom?” At that time, I will just run to my mother and say, “Dad lets me tell you that it’s all his fault and he is so sorry.” You think my mother will burst into laughter and forgive my father immediately like the cliché fairy tales’ happy ending? Too young, too simple! My elegant mother of course will just say “Ok… I know.” and calmly continue what she’s doing before. But I won’t tell you I have seen the upturned corners of her mouth after she’s listened to my words.

Nevertheless, luckily, there are still two things that they can reach an agreement on. It’s that Sue is not a good girl and she really should grow up. When it comes to educating me, they will miraculously stand on the same side. “Sue, why not clean your room now?”, “Sue, it’s dinner time”, Stop playing computer games, ok?!”, “For God’s sake, can you put more effort on your study?”, “Act like an adult and be responsible for your behavior!” and so on. Those words slipping out of my annoying mother’s mouth always accompany with my flattering father’s “Be a good girl. Just do as your mum says. Your mum is right.” I seriously doubt whether all parents in the world are so in tune about educating their kids. They seem to be in the same shoes when matching strength and wits against me. I have to admit that they take great care of me although with amazingly consistent indoctrination and it seems that I… enjoy it.

Now, I am far away from my home and live a dormitory life that I wished for. And I think jauntily that my parents can’t step in my life. On the first day of my university, I keep telling myself that it’s a good chance for me to be free from my parents’ nagging and I try my best not to miss my parents.

But despite this I miss them very much. I miss my father’s gracious eyes, his shabby cold jokes and even his bothersome echoes with my mother. I also miss my mother’s warm hands, her delicious food, and even her scary face when criticizing me. I strangely miss all these common and little things desperately. Is that love? Is that love for home that I will always cherish deep in my heart and never be fed up with? I have no idea. I only know that, at the moment, I really, really, really miss my parents so, so, so much.

I can’t help myself taking out my phone and calling my parents.

“Dad… Mum… I am… very… fine today. How about you?”

I don’t know why I say those words. I am not fine at all. I miss you so much.

I love you.

Hope in Xianlin

Fang Shu, Lin Qing and Zhang Wenying
GINLING COLLEGE, XIANLIN, CHINA

Ginling College set her new campus in Xianlin by the end of 1990s. Since then, more and more universities and colleges have moved from the downtown to Xianlin, a suburb of Nanjing. Xianlin used to be a pasture and was acquired by a property developer decades ago. Now it has become the university town that has gathered thirteen universities and colleges. In recent years, Xianlin has developed so rapidly that property prices have skyrocketed. The high rise boom has made us ignore many significant phenomena and people worthy of careful consideration, especially women. Our college has started a curriculum on women’s studies for freshwomen, which makes us pay much more attention to the women around us.

Therefore, we interviewed three women who all live in Xianlin and are close to us in their respective ways. Our lives are bound up with them. Their lives like mirrors reflect our own. We learn from them and we learn about ourselves. (Ed note: A video of those interviews appears below.)

The first interview is one of the landladys who often lingers around our school gate. Within her hands, there is a small cardboard on which it says “Cheap Accommodation Provided”. Her job is to ask people passing by whether they need to rent a hotel room for an hour or even longer. The price of the room she provides is very low in order to attract more customers. When passing by the school gate, we often see her promoting rooms. Out of curiosity, we interviewed her and found that she and the other landladies actually live a difficult and miserable life. Their houses were demolished decades ago and most of them who were farmers lost their fields. In addition to the unbalanced economic development and the inequality of opportunities for females, they can’t find a decent job. Without a regular income, they find that accommodation in a university town is a good business opportunity. Nevertheless, they don’t have many customers and are only able to maintain their livelihood. Some of them even live in the basements now. Thus we hope the government and the society can pay much more attention to them and handle the issues of the landladies’ well-being.

The second interview is with a helper in our school’s canteen. We often see her busy collecting plates and clearing tables. She is from Chaohu, a neighboring city of Nanjing. She was a farmer from a remote village and could only earn 10,000 RMB a year. Seeking jobs on her own, she came here for a relatively high-paid job. Though she misses her hometown a lot, she feels satisfied with her current life in that she can provide better living conditions for her children. She believes that she can make a good living by great efforts.

The third interview is with our classmate—a girl from Ginling College. At present, the enlargement of the number of students in universities and colleges makes job hunting a quite difficult task for all graduates. We students face the same severe employment pressure as the first two interviewees. However, she is filled with a great hope, ambition and confidence about the future. The development of Xianlin university town offers her plenty of chances. It provides her with advanced educational facilities and favorable career development. At the same time, she is willing to make contributions to the development of Nanjing.

With the development of the society, our economy has become uneven and the inequality of opportunities for females is more and more serious. In our university town, Xianlin, many women don’t have good living conditions but still struggle to live positively. There are many ill fortunes and sorrows in Xianlin. However, there are many more women who have great hopes and confidence for the future. It is the women that shine a light for the development of Xianlin.

In every city, in every place, there is both sadness and happiness. We have sympathy for the unfortunate ones. Meanwhile, we are supposed to cherish a hope for these who still have dreams.

Self-Portrait

Zhang Qiaoya (Emily)
GINLING COLLEGE, NANJING, CHINA

I’m Emily, a Nanjing local. As a calm optimist, I’ll share my hobbies and reflection on my life goals with you. Rick Warren, an American Christian pastor and author, once said “lots of people are not living but existing”.  I am one of those guys who feels unclear about life goals. However, 21 years of living, accompanied by observations, has recently made me consciously rethink my interest and life goals.

When it comes to my hobbies, traveling, photography and musical instruments must be included. As an enthusiastic traveler, I feel refreshed whenever I’m on the road. Exotic scenes, local traditions or unique ways of life bring about ecstasy by activating my sense organs. Witnessing Yunnan locals sing till midnight in the Old Town of Lijiang on weekdays is an exposure to a city’s liveliness. Seeing Japanese occupy themselves with either games or books while waiting at the entrance of Disneyland calms me down in today’s fast-paced life. Traveling widens my horizon, liberalizes my perspective and cultivates my capability for tolerance.

As a passionate photographer, I carry my camera whenever I go out. With the aid of digital cameras, I keep my memory vividly reproducible and clearly organized. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Photography is my visual tool to record the happenings. Nuances in shooting angles, shooting modes or light sensitivity enrich my personal visual dairies.  Starting in  2005, I started shooting pictures out of a passion for restoring monuments. Now I’d say I shoot pictures for single moments. In tourist attractions, Chinese visitors are easily recognized by “holding cameras” in crowds. But taking photos doesn’t make any sense if they are casually stocked in piles. What’s more, photos occupy disk space especially when you never review them. However, photos mean a lot to me.  After taking photos for almost 8 years, I find my focus has turned from specific historical sites to scenes happening around me. As a passionate traveler, I used to wait for opportunities to take photos of scenery with no heads in them. But now, I just shoot for the moment instead of for the perfect scenery. The circumstance and the scenes where people crowd into a site reveal my emotions and can never be regained. All these things happen only once.  I try my best to involve contextual elements in my “single” shot. Later when you see them again, nuances of changes which we never noticed will unfold before us. It’s this observation and reproduction of changes that inspires me. While certain sites may hardly change, human activities did influence the layout of the city. Modern society develops so fast that we never even stop to think what it was like in 1990’s Nanjing. Out of appreciation for the skylines and changeable colorful sky, I have started taking photos of the sky near my home since the Typhoon Matsa, which hit Nanjing in 2005.

Speech doesn’t help me depict the impressive colors high above in the sky, so I have taken a series of the sky, a subject I continue to shoot. What I have discovered is that no matter how blue it may be, the increasingly dense skyscrapers disrupt the balance between sky and buildings. Hoisting machines rush into my eyes, making varied heights no longer a visual enjoyment. Skyscrapers seem to compete for height instead of design or function. In such a dynamic society, the relatively static pictures occasionally remind me of the past and help me look forward to the future in a rational way. (Taking photography as a hobby, even for no ends, something either unexpected or unnoticed will be revealed.)

A Patch of Sky Near Nanjing, China, 2007

A Patch of Sky Near Nanjing, China, 2007

The Same Patch of Sky, 2008

The Same Patch of Sky, 2008

The Same Patch of Sky, 2009

The Same Patch of Sky, 2009

The Same Patch of Sky, 2010

The Same Patch of Sky, 2010

The Same Patch of Sky, 2011

The Same Patch of Sky, 2011

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2013

The Same Patch of Sky, 2013

(More photos in the album named “The Same Patch of Sky” are on my Renren website. )

As an amateur piano player, many friends of mine appreciate my musical performance. They wonder why, without seeing the score, I can easily play the music just by listening. Actually it’s passion that creates inspirations. Captivated by an instrument’s sound and expressiveness, I have tried various musical instruments using my hearing and my sensitivity to seven notes. I treat playing musical instruments as an entertainment instead of a performance; I’m not a conformist who obeys the original rhythm strictly. With sound repetitions added or notes changed, I release my emotions in a unique way and I enjoy it.

Yet think about my hobbies carefully. My life goals pertain to struggle and health. In the final analysis, my hobbies are all consumption behaviors. What if I don’t have money to sustain my interest in those things? Thus financial stability is a prerequisite, necessitating consistent self-improvement for future. Furthermore, health is also my life priority. Nothing is more important than a healthy body. While others see difficulty in simultaneous interpretation, I put a greater emphasis on the importance of sense organs. All my ability-utilization depends on organs. And organs, if damaged, couldn’t give full play to my competence to play enjoyable melody or facilitate communication between foreigners.

Anyway, to feel happy is my ultimate goal.  Though the process may not always be obstacle-free, I will try my best to sustain my hobbies till the last minute of life. As a calm optimist, I can say I’m living instead of just existing.

In the Middle

Guan Mufei
GINLING COLLEGE, NANJING, CHINA

Although I don’t want to put any tag on myself, I have to admit that I am usually “in the middle”—neither too this nor too that.

My background is a “middle” one. Two popular words in China describe girls with different backgrounds. One of them is Baifumei, meaning a young lady who’s white-skinned, rich and beautiful. The other is Nudiaosi, meaning an unpromising girl who’s ugly, poor and badly-behaved. And I am in the middle. I am olive-skinned, plain-looking and always in desire for money, lady-like among strangers while sometimes foolish among friends.

guan_mufei_ginlingMy college is a “middle” one. Some people call it “first-level among second-level ones, but second-level among first-level ones”. I may be called a “gold debater” in my own school, but not even a “copper” or “iron” one when I attend national competitions with debaters from many first-level schools. The best Chinese proverb to cite here should be “behind an able man, there are always men beyond”.

I live with my middle-aged parents near the middle of our city. They are totally different people when dealing with virtue and money, my father being a typical romantic and my mother being a grudging realist.

And I am in the middle. From time to time, I doubt the real motives behind seemingly holy conduct of a person or a country. Influenced by realistic novels and articles, I am often inclined to connect every action to the interest of the actor. But I still believe in love, sympathy and other virtues of mankind. Foolish as it may sound, I’d rather believe there’s sincere love in the world although not everyone may find it during her lifetime. I’d rather believe there’s some virtue and justice, that tops all the human greed and evil. If I’m wrong, I’d rather remain in the wrong.

I have two friends, one being so hard-working that she would rush to school the day after Chinese New Year’s Eve, and the other being so carefree that she is still at home right now (she was supposed to go to school a week ago).

And I am in the middle. I am constantly industrious because I know success without education happens to legends like Bill Gates (even he was once in college). But part of me also longs for an ordinary life—a plain job, a loving husband, healthy parents and parents-in-law and one or two children who would sit on my legs when I return from work. You can call me greedy because I seem to want both. If that requires more devotion, I am willing; if that is too difficult, I will try to strike a balance.

“But isn’t there always a balance to strike,” you may ask, “is it always good to be in the middle?” Maybe not. But being in the middle also means you are neither too far from this nor too far from that. If I must choose an extreme one day, I can take it easy. If I realize I don’t want to be in the middle any more, I can swiftly shift to one side. That’s what makes it hopeful.