Who Am I? – From Fan Wu

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Fan Wu was born on a farm in Jiangxi Province, where her parents were exiled during the Cultural Revolution. Despite poverty and isolation, the farm provided her with boundless freedom and joy. 

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Chinese Language and Literature from Sun Yat-Sen University, she went to work in Shenzhen, the first Special Economy Zone in China, transformed from a fishing village to a bustling metropolis in a decade. During her three years there, she held varied jobs and traveled extensively. A scholarship from Stanford University brought her to America, and after earning an MA in Mass Media Studies, she joined Yahoo!, a Silicon Valley-based Internet company. 

She started to write in 2002, five years after she came to America. Her debut novel, February Flowers (2006), has been translated into eight languages, and her second novel, Beautiful as Yesterday (2009), was also published in multiple countries. Her short fiction, besides being anthologized and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared in Granta, The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She writes in both English and Chinese, and often translates her own writing between the two languages. She lives in northern California with her Swedish husband and their two kids. 

          It is two am. I take my 4-year-old daughter’s temperature and give her medicine. She’s had a fever for four days. As I pray that her fever will be gone the next day and curse my husband’s untimely business trip, I hear my one-year-old son coughing and crying in his room. He’s also sick. I put my daughter back to bed and rush to my son, who by now is crying more vigorously. By the time I return to my own bed it’s almost three am. This wonderful motherhood experience, I say to myself, managing a smile. I’m tired, but I cannot help thinking about the novel I’ve started writing recently, a historical novel set in the early twentieth century. Outside, it’s raining heavily—a rare storm in California, now my home. Then my mind drifts to my childhood, my family and friends in China, my school days at Stanford…….

 

            I was born and raised on a state-run farm in Jiangxi Province. The farm was built in 1961, reportedly used to accommodate prison inmates from Fujian Province, on the coast next to Taiwan, in case war broke out between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. The war didn’t happen but the farm stayed, along with the prisoners and the jailers relocated from Fujian. There were also other residents: exiled intellectuals such as my parents, along with their families, zhi qing (educated youth) and previous Red Guards. Throughout most of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the farm was as populous as a burgeoning town.

            By the time my father had taught me (at barely age three) calligraphy, the Cultural Revolution had ended and Chairman Mao had died, though my parents had to stay on the farm for another seven years, making their total residence on the farm twenty-two years. Despite my parents’ misery, I enjoyed farm life tremendously. As the youngest of five children in the family and the only girl, I was a tomboy. I played war games, climbed trees, caught fish and eels from the river and stole fruit from the community orchards. Because the schoolwork was easy and our parents worked long hours, my friends and I were not well supervised and wandered about a lot. After school, we often raced on foot along a potholed dirt road used mainly by tractors and cows, trotted through a dried-up swamp and climbed the riverbank to see the Bo Yang Lake, a fresh-water lake that merged into the Yangzi River at a city called Nine Rivers. While hanging out together, we sang a children’s song popular at that time.

 

Our country is a garden,

Where the flowers are blossoming,

When the warm sun shines on us,

We smile radiantly.

 

            In 1983, my four brothers and I left the farm with my parents to live in Nanchang, a city nicknamed City of Heroes because of its revolutionary history. Seven years later I moved again, this time to Guangzhou, a dazzling metropolis in southern China, where I studied Chinese Literature and Language at Sun Yat-sen University. February Flowers, my first novel, is based on my college days. It’s about friendship and coming of age, also about innocence or its loss. The book is not autobiographical but the protagonist—a girl who tries to find the meaning of life in complex philosophical books—shares characteristics with my young self.

            After graduation I worked in Shenzhen, the first Economic Special Zone in China, where a special entrance visa was required for non-residents. I remember how my first paycheck, almost ten times what my mother, a college librarian, earned in Nanchang, stunned my family and friends. Yet, the job was not for me, a self-labeled idealist. Neither was the city, with its skyscrapers and tacky neon. I was restless, switching from job to job, until I decided one day that I had to see the world.  

            On a summer day in 1997, I sat in a classroom looking out on an oval garden flanked with elegant palm trees. I was now a graduate student at Stanford University. Though I tried to give my full attention to the bearded professor, who spoke English with a heavy French accent, I kept glancing at the several students sitting lazily on the floor, chewing gum as if they were on a beach. In front of me, a white girl was wearing so little that only a fragile string covered her back. Next to me, a tall black boy was taking notes diligently, his hair braided into long, thick ropes and held by colorful bands. I don’t know why, but the sight of my fellow classmates relieved me. I didn’t know them, just as they didn’t know me; finally, I was starting afresh. 

            Several months into my new life, I dreamed one night of my 91-year-old grandma, an illiterate country woman who had worked hard all her life. In my dream she asked how I was doing and said she missed me. When I woke up I realized with a feeling of absurdity that she was speaking English to me, not her kejia dialect. I cried that day. Yes, I had gained a new country, new friends, unprecedented freedom in thinking and expressing my opinions, and drastically improved English. But how much had I lost in the process?

            Time flew by. I graduated and got my practical-training permission from INS. I found a job at an Internet company in Silicon Valley, where 95% of the people I knew were either hardware or software engineers. I became an H-1B visa holder. I started my green card application through my company. I grew jaded at my work. I began to write. It was 2002, five years after I had arrived in America.

            Many nights and weekends I locked myself in my tiny room and wrote. It was my passion, also my escape. Living in the U.S. had forced me to reexamine my past, my cultural heritage, my own people. I was particularly intrigued by the impact of history and politics on the lives of normal people in China, where wars and tumults dominated in the past century. Everyone in China, it seemed to me, was carrying a burden of five thousand years of history. 

            I wrote in English because I wanted to master my adopted language. But the more I wrote the more clearly I saw my limitations: language isn’t merely a means of expression, it’s a mindset, part of the inner dialog, and it makes one the person one is. So much is lost in translation between languages. It’s never the same to read Lao She’s graceful old Beijing, Zhang Ailing’s war-stricken Shanghai, and Xiao Hong’s snow-clad northeastern provinces in English vs. in Chinese. Worrying that I’d lose my ability to write in my native tongue, I translated February Flowers into Chinese after its English version was published in the West. 

            Three years after my first book was published, I finished my second novel, Beautiful as Yesterday, a story of a Chinese mother and her two daughters, and also translated it into Chinese. Based on the Chinese version, I edited the original manuscript. Nabokov did something similar: “The re-English of a Russian re-version of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place.” A task he called “diabolical”.

            I am still torn between writing in Chinese and writing in English. Yet I know I have to live in two languages, just as I have to live in two cultures. It’s not just because of my desire to become proficient in my new language and my hope of finding a new way to express myself, but also because of the publishing world’s disinterest in foreign-language books and the challenge of finding a good translator.

 

My son’s crying interrupts my thought. The storm has passed but it’s still raining, raindrops spattering the windows, less intensely than earlier. As I drag myself out of bed to check on my son, my writing and my rumination on my past fade from my mind. I have returned to what’s most important at this moment.

            Being a mother: a universal language.

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Who Am I? – From Judie Oron

small b-w, simonJudie Oron is a Canadian/Israeli journalist and the author of Cry of the Giraffe (Annick Press), a novel based on the true story of her daughter Wuditu’s experience as a child slave in Ethiopia. Her articles have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Lifestyles Magazine, Canadian Jewish News, Christian Woman [Australia], Weekly Press Pakistan and The Jerusalem Report.

Judie studied anthropology at McGill University and African studies at the Hebrew University. She wrote for The Jerusalem Post, including a four-year stint as a weekly columnist.  Later, as Director of the Jerusalem Post Funds, she opened a separate fund for destitute Ethiopian Jewish refugees arriving in Israel via a clandestine airlift from Sudan (Operation Moses). She then left the newspaper to direct an organization that assisted Ethiopian refugees to find their way to Israel.

Judie took into her family two sisters, one of whom she encountered in Ethiopia in 1989. Upon learning that another sister was missing, she returned to Ethiopia in 1992 to find and release the child from slavery.  Since the publication of Cry of the Giraffe, she lectures on Wuditu’s story and on child slavery in the Horn of Africa.

Who am I?

Judie Oron

My name is Judie and I am a citizen of two countries, Canada and Israel. I’ve passed the age of retirement but, although I didn’t plan for this to happen, I’m finding myself moving from a career as a writer to that of an activist.  An event that happened long ago has returned to take over my life, and I find myself researching obsessively, speaking out compulsively – and I don’t seem to be able to stop! Fair warning – if you approach me, I’ll probably harangue you, too!

Twenty-two years ago, I bought and paid for a human being – an Ethiopian Jewish girl named Wuditu, who subsequently became my daughter. Two decades later, I’m still obsessing about so many ‘what ifs’ and  ‘would haves’ that led to Wuditu being where she was and my being where I was at just that right moment. What if I hadn’t woken up to hear her sister crying on that particular night? What if I hadn’t had the patience at 3 a.m. to listen as Lewteh explained that she didn’t believe her sister was really dead?  What if she hadn’t insisted, ‘I can still feel my sister breathing!’

Before all of that happened, I was born and grew up in Montreal, moved to Israel, married and gave birth to two sons. My pride in those two boys, my joy in watching them evolve, was enormous.  But I also wanted to be the mother of girls. I dreamed of adopting but financial constraints made pursuing that dream highly unrealistic. And then, a wave of destitute refugees from war-torn Ethiopia came to Israel and my work brought me into contact with those refugees and later on, with Lewteh and Wuditu.

I should explain that after the fall of Jerusalem’s First Temple in 586 BCE, dark-skinned Jews fled the Holy Land for Egypt and, years later, to Ethiopia. They longed to come to Israel, but the then-Marxist Ethiopian government refused to allow them to leave. So thousands of Jews fled to Sudan and waited in refugee camps until the Israelis could secretly land planes in the desert and airlift them to Israel.

In 1989, Lewteh and Wuditu, then aged 10 and 13, were torn from their family in a violent incident in a refugee camp and forced to walk back to Ethiopia. Ironically, that same night, their family members were rescued and airlifted to Israel.  In the context of my work, I encountered Lewteh in Ethiopia and came back with her to Israel.  Her father was desperately ill and asked me to take the child into my family.  He had paid a man to go to Ethiopia to look for Wuditu but the man returned, reporting that Wuditu was dead. The family mourned and, for two long years, I never asked Lewteh about her deceased sister.

When I learned that Lewteh believed her sister was still alive, I had no choice but to go back to Ethiopia to look for Wuditu. I found her in a small market town in the north of Ethiopia. She was emaciated, ill, terrified and trapped in domestic slavery. I paid for her and took her back with me to Israel. She quickly became a much-loved member of our family and, for nearly two decades, we kept the story of her enslavement a secret.  Every year, on the 21st of February, we celebrated what Wuditu calls her ‘second birthday,’ that is, the day that she was set free. Every year, she began the day by asking, ‘Why are we still alive,’ because that day we were very nearly killed as we tried to escape the town where she was being held against her will.

Four years ago, Wuditu decided that her story must be told and she asked me to write it. I was appalled. Why would she want people to know such an ugly story? But Wuditu was adamant – nothing had changed, she said, children were still being trafficked and enslaved, yet the story was still not ‘out there.’

Reluctantly, I agreed to do as she asked. I wept as I listened to the tapes I’d made of our interviews and I wept as I wrote her story. But when I began researching child slavery in Ethiopia, I came to see that Wuditu was right. This was a story that was written about in the reports of international organizations, but it rarely appeared in newspapers or in the media. People had to be made aware. And the first step to affecting change was to inform them.

Wuditu took a risk in exposing her terrible experience and I would like to make that sacrifice count. I have a wish list of things I hope will result from the publication of her story in Cry of the Giraffe. When people ask me what they can do, I tell them – learn! Read about child slavery and forced labour in Ethiopia. Read the reports and read about a government that tries to assist these poor children but, at the same time, enacts laws that prevent foreign NGOs from working on issues such as those that affect child labourers.

Also on my wish list is the hope that one day Wuditu’s story can be made into a film, for that is the quickest way to expose the plight of all those children still working for no wages and under inhuman conditions, until they either escape or succumb to their desperate circumstances.

I’m so proud of Wuditu. Her courage, strength and wisdom, her sudden brilliant bursts of humour, her unending desire to help people, despite having been treated so cruelly during her formative years – all these have uplifted and enlightened our family. Please, help us to carry her story forward. Let’s make it count!

For more information, please refer to the author’s website: www.judieoron.com.

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Who Am I? – From Lucy Sheen

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Lucy, a Chinese adoptee in the UK, has worked extensively on stage, big and small screens, radio, multi-media, corporate training, presentation, commercials and as a drama support tutor.  Recently qualified as a web-designer and now transferring those skills into3D film production.

Theatre credits include par söker par i Trosa Riddley Walker-Exchange; Julius Caesar-Bristol Old Vic; Drink the Mercury-nominated for a TMA award; Hungry Ghosts by Tim Luscombe- nominated for an OFFIE.  Plenty directed by Thea Sharrock;TV credits include: Prime Suspect 2; Eastenders; Lovejoy; Nighty Night Series 2.;Radio credits include: Words On A Night Breeze; Bound Feet and Western Dress.

Lucy is currently developing several writing projects for stage, screen and radio.

 

 

Who Am I?

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. “

E.E. Cummings

“How we remember, what we remember and why we remember form the most personal map of our individuality.”

Christina Baldwin

I think these two quotes sum up for me the journey that I have undergone in order to answer the question “Who Am I”  Over four decades ago as a toddler I was stood on a school desk by my Adoptive mother, the object for a bring and tell*. I’d been dressed in the clothes that I’d worn when I’d first flown over to the UK. Blue trousers and red silk happy coat. I was poked, prodded, pinched and laughed at. As young as I was, I realised that I was not like everyone else. I was different from everyone else. That experience and being slapped across the face at the age of about six, when I asked the direct question, had I been adopted, are the two early defining points for me and who I am. I was not able to define myself physically as I shared no physical or facial similarities to those who lived about me. My likeness was not to be found in any of the black and white TV programs that I was allowed to watch. For the first sixteen years of my life I was defined by other people, my adoptive family, relatives, neighbours, teachers and what those people projected onto me. I was the outsider. The other, a child of difference. In spite of the so called swinging sixties, living as I did in suburban conservative England different was not good. Differences were frowned upon, shunned even feared. My adoptive mother warned me when I was about seven, maybe eight. That if I ever attempted to find out where I had come from, I would be kidnapped by the Chinese embassy and taken back to China. There I would be miserable and have to grow up on a commune. That was the “cold war” working and the West’s fear and misunderstanding of China in the late 50s early 60s. My adoptive mother also warned me that if I did start being nosey, it would prove how ungrateful and wicked I was. The idea of being kidnapped and sent back to China petrified me. At that age I had a vague idea of where China was, but beyond that I new nothing of my culture or racial heritage. China was alien to me. After my adoptive mother had given me this warning I had a recurring nightmare about being kidnapped this lasted well into my late teens. However what that did do is make me want to learn more about China and where I had come from. I used to go to the local library on a weekend and read book after book about China and the Chinese. Most of which I didn’t really understand, but I read them nevertheless. The first three books I read were

  • The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
  • Journey To The West by Wu Cheng’en
  • Records Of The Grand Historian by Sima Qian

The offering in the local library was not extensive and new books were few and seldom. But as I grew I self taught myself on the culture of China some of its long and complex history. The language I never was able to master. But then in the early sixties without friends of acquaintances that were Chinese how would a person like me learn Chinese?  My cultural discomfort, displacement and disenfranchisement has made me the actor, writer and filmmaker that I am today. I think that it is no co-incidence that I chose a profession where I spend all of my time pretending to be someone else. Speak someone else’s thoughts and express someone else’s emotions. It’s what I call “hiding in plane sight”.  I think over the past couple of years since 2010 I have finally realized who I am. I am Lucy Lai-Tuen Chau Sheen. Actor, writer, filmmaker and transracial adoptee.  Knowing where you have come from and how you got to where you are is very important. You cannot truly move forward, progress or develop if you do not know where you have come from.  If you have no cultural or linguistic foundations identity will always elude you. Now that I understand this, I can stand up and be counted for what I truly believe in as  British East Asian transracially adopted person.

*Bring and tell/Show and tell a popular exercise for school children you would be asked to bring in a object and then stand up in front of your class and talk about the object.

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Who Am I? – From Chiew-Siah Tei

ChiewSiahTei2-1Malaysian-born Chiew-Siah Tei is the author of Little Hut of Leaping Fishes (Picador, 2008), winner of Malaysia’s Audience’ Choice Award and listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize and Best Scottish Fiction Prize. A writer who is keen on experimenting with form and medium, Tei produces works that range across literature, film and theatre, in both Chinese and English.

Tei went to Scotland in 1994 to read for an M.Phil. in Media Culture, majoring in film studies, at Glasgow University. A chance participation in BBC’s Migration Screenwriting programme led to the writing of her screenplay, Night Swimmer. The completed film later won Best Short Film at France’s Vendome International Film Festival 2000.

Returning to Malaysia in 1998, Tei worked as a freelance translator and lecturer of media studies at a local college. In 2002, she left for Scotland again to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing and Film Studies at Glasgow University. In between studies and writing, she penned Three Thousand Troubled Threads for the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005.

Tei’s second book, The Mouse Deer Kingdom, will be published in October 2013.  She now lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

www.chiewsiahtei.com

 

Who Am I?

– by Chiew-Siah Tei

 

Who am I?  As a fourth-generation Chinese born and bred in Malaysia, I always know that I am Malaysian by nationality and Chinese by ethnicity, and that I am part of the multi-cultural society and Malaysia is my home.  In Malaysia we have a unique Malaysian Chinese culture, which I embrace.  Some might say the language, the cultural practices, the food, to name a few, are no longer authentic; but then, that is the authentic Chinese Malaysian culture!

I had never, during my adolescent years, doubted my identity as a Malaysian and a Chinese.  My confusion, however, came later during my university years and after entering society, when I became aware of the racial inequalities, and even became a victim of the unjust policies.  It’s the politics and the politicians with their unjust treatments towards us that have confused us – the so-called ‘others’: the Chinese, the Indians and other ethnic minorities who, for generations, have been living in the land– not the country or the culture.

Today, living in Scotland, I can loudly declare that I am Malaysian; there is no doubt about it.  I follow news from home and am closely in touch with friends in Malaysia who are fighting against political and social injustice, giving them support as much as I can, as well as trying to do my part through my writing.  This way, I don’t feel detached from the country – I would if I were to moan and completely alienate myself from it.  Scotland to me, is the place I work in, where I can acquire certain degree of freedom, which I will never be able to enjoy in my own country.

I could understand perfectly if you, a child who was born in China and later adopted by British parents to live with them in the United Kingdom, were confused about your identity.  This is a common issue among persons who live outside their cultural roots, be they Chinese, South Asians, Africans and the like.  History has determined our fates.  It is impossible to go back in time and amend, but there’s time to understand, and with that to accept the unchangeable facts. By acceptance, I don’t mean we should deny our cultural roots, but recognise and inherit the culture, while at the same time, acknowledge the place we feel belonged, regardless where it is, to be our homes.

It is natural that you would want to rediscover your cultural roots, to understand and be proud of them.  I remember how I had tears in my eyes when I watched the splendour displays that accounted the cultural history of China at the opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  I was proud of and moved by the richness of the culture from which my ancestors were originated.

We find ways to help us understand or reconnect with the part of history and culture that are absent from us.  Writing my first book, Little Hut of Leaping Fishes – set during the late 19th century in China, where my great grandparents had lived and eventually left for Malaya at the turn of the 20th century – has helped me to understand the history and learned to accept it.

As for you, the Mothers’ Bridge of Love provides a platform to connect with your cultural roots, and to find a balance between the culture you now live in and that of your birth place’s.  With that, I hope that you will be more confident, and always be happy and proud of who you are.

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Who Am I? – From Julia Lovell

homme cherche femme a Ain About the author

http://dk.dating-girls.com/mand-sger-mand-i-bjerringbro/ mand søger mand I Bjerringbro Names in file NameJulia Lovell teaches modern Chinese history and literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. She has written three books about China, most recently The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China, which won the 2012 Jan Michalski Prize. Her several translations of modern Chinese fiction include Han Shaogong’s A Dictionary of Maqiao (winner of the 2011 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature), Zhu Wen’s I Love Dollars, and Lu Xun’s The Real Story of Ah-Q, and Other Tales of China.

 

Who Am I?

I grew up surrounded by books and music – before they retired, my parents were both teachers (of music, and Latin and Greek). I’m the middle child of three, so we always had plenty of fun outside our reading and music lessons. The only slightly unconventional aspect of my childhood was that my parents moved around a lot: they were very curious to see different parts of the country. So as a child I lived in a succession of houses, and went to a number of schools. Organising the moves must have been very tiring for my parents, but for me exploring new places was great fun. We were lucky to live in some of the most beautiful parts of the country: in the Yorkshire Dales, in north Cornwall and in Norfolk. My parents chose houses with big gardens, so I had a sense of space and adventure as I grew up.

I always loved reading and languages; I think that I probably always wanted to be a translator. But while I was growing up in rural England in the 1980s, there was never any opportunity to learn Chinese. I learnt French, Spanish and German, but China still seemed very remote. I think that I probably hadn’t even met someone from China until I suddenly decided to study the language at Cambridge, where my excellent language teachers were all Chinese. I am very happy that China and Chinese culture seem so much more familiar now; both my daughter and son study Chinese, and they have very good Chinese friends at school. They wish they could eat Chinese dumplings every day, but whenever I try to make them they always fall apart in the water! Luckily, my Chinese friends sometimes take pity on me and make me some.

In comparison with my childhood, I’ve led a very settled adult life. I met my husband while at university in Cambridge, and we have since settled here with our three children. It is a wonderfully lively, cosmopolitan city. But if ever I feel tired of being in the same place, I am refreshed by my frequent trips to China. I first visited the country in 1997 and I still remember how surprised I was by my sense of culture shock and my frustration at not being able to express myself properly. But on that first trip, as on every trip that I have subsequently made, I met many kind people and new friends; I am still in touch with them today, which is a source of great happiness. I always feel sad if a year passes without my going back to China.

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