Friday, March 26, 2010

The Visit - Part 8

(About ten years ago mom went back to her home town and reunited with her remaining family. The temple in the background used to be her elementary school. It has always been a temple.)

I woke up in a quiet house and started bawling. I’m leaving tomorrow and mom will be on her own again. I’m worried sick to think she has to do everything herself in her frail condition. There’s a limit how much friends can help, and mom hates to bother her friends. I can’t move here for a couple of reasons. It’s hard for her to move in with me for a couple of reasons. I felt gutted with no feasible solutions in sight.

We talked about it after mom got up. We both thought the senior home would be the last resort. Moving in with me would be the best way to go. I will go back and get things in order. I may have to sell my house and get a ground level unit to accommodate her mobility issues. I’ll have to think about the financial part of it. I felt a little better.

I made mom practice the buttons on the new radio we bought yesterday. She got frustrated by the buttons last night that she lost temper and wanted to return it. I assured her new gadgets nowadays were all alike--they are getting more and more complicated. Besides, this is the only model they have that plays cassettes. The only thing to do is to be patient (a real challenge for mom) and practice.

I encouraged her to do the exercise recommended by the therapist. She said she’d been exercising for forty years and look at her now. She’d rather die, she said. She does the bicycle pedaling everyday for forty-five minutes, but sits in front of the TV for the rest of the day. The stomach exercise is the most important one--it helps her stand steadily and upright, thus reduces her risk of falling. I’ll have to call her twice a day: once in the morning to remind her about the stomach exercise, over which she will no doubt have a fit, and once before bedtime to check on her.

I counted the capsules and tablets she takes everyday. There are fourteen bottles and about forty pills a day. Only one of them was prescribed by her doctor. All the others are either vitamins or supplements with magical powers. I worried about her vitamin A intake, which exceeded daily allowance by about one thousand eight hundred MCG. She told me she’d been taking it for years, and my worries were complete nonsense. I read all the effects of vitamin A overdose to her. She finally agreed to reduce the dosage by half. Maybe the one about hair loss got her attention.

Mom asked me if there were doctors in my area. I said why no, we use voodoo rituals to cure diseases. Surprisingly, she didn’t get mad. I felt bad for being a smart aleck.

The lawyer turned out to be a disappointment. She neglected to tell us a couple of things, and the fee subsequently increased to over one thousand dollars. Mom said forget it unhappily, then she got up and left. We forgot to ask if we owe the lawyer any fees for the tiny amount of work she had done so far. Mom didn’t think we owe her anything.

I’m still torn by the question of where she should live. The best choice for her is to stay here, but that means I have to somehow find work in her area so I will be readily available to her. I hate making decisions.

* * *

The taxi was a little late. Several times mom wanted to go back and call the company. I didn’t remind her with the fact that she didn’t speak a word of English. I stopped her each time and told her I had hours to kill at the airport, so five minutes was nothing.

She stayed at the building entrance as I ran out in the rain to the taxi. We waved briefly and the taxi pulled her out of my sight. I talked to the driver nonstop so I wouldn’t start crying again. I found out his original country, his educational and work background, and his near future plans.

There are choices to be made and none of them is easy. The best one seems to be for mom to stay in her house and for me to go there. That means I have to give up my life as I knew. Am I ready for it? I lost count of the times I cried during this visit. I will likely lose count of the times we fight over little things if we live together.

The minute houses laid out in neat square patches below the clouds. I looked at the picturesque land below and wondered how much sorrow filled how many houses down there. I used to think the view from the airplane windows were magnificently beautiful. I know now there are untold stories, some gut wrenchingly sad, are being played out as I write.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Visit - Part 7

We decided to attend the sisterhood worship on Tuesday. More than one person at church told me how impatient and stubborn mom was. I was a little embarrassed at mom’s commenting on people’s age and looks. I guess there’s no other meaningful topics for people over eighty to discuss? But when another woman joined mom and they used the words such as “really ugly” "how shameful” “so appalling” and “why do we hire a cripple (for a minister)” I really wanted to scream. We were in a church for God’s sake!

Mom gets very angry if I say anything about it. She didn’t think there’s anything wrong with it regardless how many times I reminded her. I knew she was upset as the “eleven” lines appeared between her brows. The fact that she uses a cane does not stop her from calling others “cripple.” I’m not sure if I should be angry or laughing.

Lunch was served at church after the sisterhood worship. I got a plate of food for mom. She got soup, dessert, water for herself. When it comes to food mom doesn’t share, wait, or care about others. I think it rooted from her childhood when she first went through famine, then had to eat among bombing and running to shelters. If you didn’t eat fast, you didn’t eat. I don’t understand why she couldn’t outgrow it after sixty years of living in peace time. This is also the reason she couldn’t lose weight. She eats way too fast and too much--as if Japanese soldiers were about to march in any minute now.

I thought we should drive by the senior facility to check out the branch of mom’s bank. She flat out refused it when I mentioned it before church--for no obvious reason. A couple of days before she insisted on there was no such thing; that the one branch she banks with was the only branch they had. Equally, for no obvious reason, she decided to go after church, but not before telling me I didn’t know how to read a map when I was checking the route. She had never been able to read a map or tell directions.

It was a good thing that I apologized to most of her friends about her temper and her verbal assaults, and it was a good thing that they all knew about it and seemed to be pretty understanding. It was an extremely good thing that most of her friends were from the church.

We found the bank and went in to see if they had anybody speaks her language. Thank heavens they did. The drawback is the bank is located on a busy street. Driving and parking may be problematic for her.

If mom doesn’t pass the driver’s test in July, she will have to use her transport card. So far she prefers to stay in her own house, which is completely understandable. Senior housing will be option 2. Me calling her everyday will be essential, and not an option anymore.

A neighbor lives upstairs came check on mom after dinner. She saw mom’s car parked in the same position for days and got worried. She didn’t know I had been driving. Apparently mom’s parking skill is also well known.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Visit - Part 6

We looked high and low for the house purchase contract and title for the lawyer’s appointment later today. She had a copy in the envelop marked “House purchase papers” but she thought that was the wrong one, so we looked for an hour. Then we were told that that was the paper we needed.

I found a prayer notebook on the bookshelf. Out of curiosity I flipped through it. She wrote down her morning and evening prayers on it. They were for her favorite political party, her health, her temperament, her friends. But among her three children, only my half brother’s name appeared frequently. I didn’t see my name or my sister’s.

I asked her why. She played her senile card and pretended she didn’t know what I was talking about.

I was hurt for an hour or so, then I went into her room where she started writing down things I should do after she passes. I wrote on a piece of paper: “Don’t worry, mom. I will try my best to find my brother and give him whatever you want to give him after you‘re gone. If necessary I will go back to Taiwan to do this. Your daughter.”

She obviously worries a lot about him but doesn’t want to admit it. I figure that’s the least I could do to calm her mind. I’d like to think she still remembers me in her prayers. She just didn’t write it down.

Today is the first day of meal delivery. She called to ask where the food was around 12 o’clock. I told her the window was between 11:00 to 1:00, but she never had any patience and still doesn’t. I was still cooking some spinach when she wolfed down her meal, and asked me to change the delivery to three times a week.

We went and got the doctor to sign the form so she could apply for discount transportation. We also visited the lawyer referred by her friend and the papers will be ready on Wednesday. Another fruitful day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Visit - Part 5

It’s the senior’s worship day today (Saturday). I met and greeted a lot of elderly people in church, where everybody knew mom. An elderly gentleman came to chat next to us, who were sitting down. All of a sudden, and to my utter horror, mom reached out and slipped half of her hand into the gentleman’s pant zipper saying, “Hey, you forgot to zip up!” I slapped her hand without thinking and at the same time yelled, “Don’t touch that!”

For a second our roles completely reversed. Not that I ever did what she did when I was a kid.

The gentleman laughed and said not to worry, that he and mom had known each other for a long time. Then he zipped up in front of us. I thought to myself yeah, I’m sure you’ll be happy if anyone wants to touch your “you know what.“ For some reason his hand on mom’s shoulder, while moving and rubbing it, irritated me immensely.

I thought about it some more and I think I know why.

Chinese do not touch. The older ones, that is. Mom barely hugged me when she first saw me in two years. Actually, it was more like she endured my hug to her. He was an old man, so he should know better than that. This was borderline molestation!

Mom made arrangement to meet with a realtor friend at a McDonald after church. I showed my stubborn side by refusing to eat there. We got into our separate cars and went to a different place to eat. I’ll have the word “idiot” tattooed on my forehead before I put any junk food in my body when I’m in a town with fine Chinese cuisine everywhere. Did I mention mom was stubborn, too?

The realtor friend answered some questions we had about mom’s property. I think we need to meet a lawyer on Monday. He will arrange that. Friendship here is often hinged on mutual business interests. He had sold a townhouse to mom during her relocation fever. It’s kind of like the clownfish and the sea anemone.

Highlight of the day: mom commented on how her sixty-eight-year old friend looked younger than me. She must be a very special friend.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Visit - Part 4

The bather is coming today (Friday). Mom asked me to first cancel it, then to change the time yesterday. I asked for the phone number but she didn’t have it. The bather will call before coming over, which is of course too late to change anything. She couldn’t give me a reason why she wanted to change it though. She decided to bathe herself, so I helped.

We left for the Red Cross before the bather called. I hope she didn’t get worried and call mom’s emergency contact, whoever that may be.

Before we left, we decided to have an argument first. Her “nice temper” made a guest appearance.

“Where’s the 2008 tax return paper?” She asked.
“It’s on the coffee table.” I picked it up and handed her the envelop.
“It’s important paper. I need to give this to Michelle to do my tax this year.”
“Mom, it’s the 2008 tax. It’s already done.”
“How could it be done? I haven’t given her the paper yet.”
“You need to give her 2009 paper to do the tax, not 2008.”
“Nonsense! This is 2010. We do the tax for 2009, so we need the paper from 2008.”
“What? Nooo….” I was baffled by her logic. Did they change the tax rules when I wasn’t paying attention?
“What do you mean no? That’s how it’s done every year!” She was irritated. Her brows were arched high and her look said “you’re an idiot” to me.
“No, you get the 2009…”
“Don’t tell me no!” She refused to listen and raised her voice.
“Mom! This is 2010, you need the income statements from 2009 to do the tax.”

We went through this chronological intrigue several times. Each time she got angrier and louder. Finally she said, “But how can I do the tax? I don’t have the papers!” As if that was the point of our “discussion.”

“That’s why we went to the social services yesterday--to request the duplicates.” How could she not remember? We did this less than 24 hours ago.

She looked at me and, for a second, I thought she was going to argue again, but somehow she decided otherwise. I went inside to change. When I was walking away I heard her murmuring to herself “2009, 2008...?”

Red Cross told us we needed a doctor’s referral to rent a walker. Naturally we didn’t have it. I did get a list where we could purchase one and we decided to get one instead. We found the store and their walkers looked very nice--if “nice” is a proper word to describe walkers. She told the salesman it was too expensive and we left empty handed. I apologized to the salesman, but I couldn’t fault her for being price weary. Truth is, I’m the same way--I see it as a virtue. We went to a discount store and came home with a cheaper walker. I put it together and she tried it out in the house. She seemed happy with it, but it felt sturdy and that was most important.

We looked through her piles of pictures. To some I said yew! I don’t like that person. She lectured me on how we shouldn’t hate, because Christians aren’t supposed to hate. This came from a person who stopped talking to her own brother when he was alive, or to his family who are alive, or to her own two other kids?

Right now I’m tempted to get a job and move here so she doesn’t have to leave her house, or live among strangers. I also know this is the overwhelming emotion I’m experiencing. Getting along will be a challenge in the long run. I probably won’t be able to find work here for quite some time. And just like her, I like my town very much.

On the other hand, how many years does she have left? I may never have a second chance, and the thought of it brings on a feeling that begs for a new word for “awful.”

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Visit - Part 3

We set out to get her missing papers needed for this year’s tax return straighten out by paying a visit to the local social services. I suspect she had received, and misplaced, these papers, but I wasn’t going to argue with her. It would be a lot easier to request duplicates. I got the directions from the internet because she had no clue where it was. We got there and she said she had been there before to get her passport. I said why didn’t you tell me this, she said she didn’t know it was a government’s building.…

We put in the request and went home, but not before making a detour to the Red Cross to rent a walker--she was not supposed to use a cane according to the health consultant. They were closed. Upon finding out they only worked half a day each day, I wondered out loud if I should get a job there.

We tried again to look for the missing 2008 tax returns. She said she put them away with specific care. I think it must be the Murphy’s law. She found a stack of letters from me, dating from my school years. I read in amazement how detailed I wrote her about my life, most of them I have forgotten or would rather forget. It appeared that I have always been a wordy kid on paper. Is that why I have a blog?

There was one in which I complained about how she hurt my feelings with her careless and constant criticism. This was last year when I figured I was finally old enough to tell her how I felt. I regretted sending it right afterwards. Here came the chance for redemption--I threw it away while she wasn‘t looking.

I had just thrown her letters to me out while getting the room ready for her. In my defense, her letters were all very short and non emotional. I saw how she didn’t express positive feelings, verbally or otherwise, was inline with her upbringing. Sometimes I wished she had a different upbringing.

I spotted a big envelop with “08 tax” on it and opened it. Viola! Instead of the regular envelop she has been using for tax papers, she used a different one for this particular year for no particular reason. Mystery solved. I called the health consultant and gave her the information.

The meals delivery services called me back. I set her up for lunch delivery starting next Monday. I think I will get the phone shopping service for her as well. She will get a phone call once a week to get her grocery list, and someone will buy and deliver the grocery to her.

It was a fruitful day. Now we need to make a decision on the facility. Not surprisingly, she’s having second thought.

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(I'm visiting my mom to take care of things needed at this time. As a result I have limited time to read or comment on my beloved blogs. All should resume to normal in another week.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Visit - Part 2

The next day I called and left a message with the meal delivery service to get things started. She had driven up to a sidewalk once, so it would be in everybody’s interest if she doesn’t drive at all, or as little as possible. Right now she had to go out and eat everyday. She couldn’t stand or lift her arms too long after the fall. Her arms that once could’ve smacked me from here to China are no longer able to lift more than five pounds.

Nobody called back. A friend of hers insisted on treating us lunch. I was surprised to find the quality of food served there was much better than that in my town. Maybe I should move here and find a job here instead. Her friends told me how stubborn and independent mom was. I thanked them repeatedly for taking care of her in my absence. I don’t have such friends. Not that many anyway.

We took care of business at her bank on the third day so if anything happens to her…I avoid thinking any further.

Someone she knew at the bank suggested a senior facility for us to check out. This friend even went so far as to summon her friend, Mr. M, to go with us after work, as his father is a resident there and as luck would have it, Mr. M was going to visit him today. We were excited. Mom liked this town very much and was reluctant to move in with me, who lives nine hundred miles away with no grocery stores in walking distance.

She used guilt trip once to tell me she ‘had no choice but to move here’ to imply it was my fault that she now lived so far away, at which time I had to remind her that she decided to move here to be close to her brother’s family (with whom she no longer talks to) and I actually asked her not to move.

We had lunch and made a visit to the health consultant, who was a very nice and extremely helpful lady. She cleared up a lot of questions for us--namely me, and was glad to hear the bathe assistance was helpful to mom. All we need now is to find her 2008 tax return papers and inform her which facility mom likes the best. She will put mom on the waiting list as soon as she has those information.

Mom’s navigational skills led us to a different city instead of home. I tried to turn back but ended on a different highway instead. We visited my uncle’s grave since we were in the neighborhood, albeit completely accidental. She wasn’t going to take me here when I asked earlier, so I was glad we got lost.

Her grave site was in the same cemetery. A Wang’s family on her right. I found out they were her friends and they bought the lots together. I said some silent monologue to my uncle. The ground was covered with pale pink petals from a nearby cherry tree, and more were flying in the wind, teasing in my hair. Going home was much better this time--this is the only out-of-town route she knows how to travel and find her way home.

The sun was still out at five o’clock but the wind was cutting like cold blades. We waited on the sidewalk for her friend to pick us up to the senior facility. I kept moving so the cold wouldn’t get me. She sat on the stone wall as standing was too much for her. The doctor said she might have Parkinson’s disease, but she doesn’t shake. Her brother, the one we visited earlier, died from the same illness. It doesn’t look good for me.

The facility was a hit. It was clean, spacious, and overlooked a river. About thirty percent of their residents were from her country, so it’s possible she could make friends if she controls her temper. She said she had nice temper. I said no you don’t, and immediately wished I hadn‘t said so. Too late. She got mad and yelled at me.

I looked through the pamphlets for seniors needing assistance after dinner and the tears came out without warning. I cleaned myself up and went back to the pamphlets of walkers, wheelchairs, resource lists and happy pictures of seniors with smiling family members. The tears came out again. A few more times of this and I gave up. I couldn’t read a word through pools of water.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Visit - Part 1

She sat on the short stone wall by the sidewalk, head bowed and back slumped forward. I waved at her and told the driver to stop. She slowly got up and walked over. With the help of a cane, she approached the cab and raised her cane at the driver.

I panicked for a moment. The deep creases between her brows made her look irritated, and I wasn’t sure if they were from habits or an indication of her mood. Was she going to smash the window with her cane? Was she mad at me for not picking up the phone this morning?

I didn’t have to answer the phone to know the instructions from her:

It’s time to get up! Don’t miss the plane! for the first call and It’s time to leave. The plane isn‘t going to wait for you! for the second call. Apparently I’m still three years old to her.

“Left, left!” she said/yelled.
The driver said, “Should I go up more?” He was intimidated by the cane, too.

I said no and got out of the cab. She strolled over to the side where I was sitting and practically yelled, “This is not the entrance! Tell him to go up more!”

I hugged her and said it’s okay--I traveled light. She calmed down a little, but she wasn’t excited to see me as I had imagined. I got teary eyed on the plane for nothing.

She shrunk a lot. The cane was new to me, and it was hard for me to see. Not that long ago--or so it felt--she was taller and stronger than I was. She wore high heels that I had trouble walking in. Now her head was barely up to my chin, her back perpetually hunched over, and she looked as if she might fall anytime even with a cane. High heels belonged to the dreams of yesteryear. Her body felt small in my arms although she still weighed more than me.

Age had her beat and there was evidence from her head to her toe.

I haven’t been to this house before. She moved about half a dozen times in ten years, twice within the same complex. She had trouble making decision, and it changed easily once it had been made. She packed and unpacked everything herself, and the sore muscles didn’t stop her from doing it again in a year or two. I got tired just from hearing these words: I’m moving--here’s the new address.

I was given a tour in the small house and her complaint of having to throw away tons of stuff. I have a small house, so she had to make the sacrifice if we were going to live together. Besides, they were mostly junk anyway. But I won’t tell her that.

I couldn’t sleep the first night. There were a lot to do, but that wasn’t why I lost sleep.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Family Emendation

I don't remember when it started, but the feeling is growing so strong I wish I could smother it with my hands. Moments like now, when she yells from upstairs for me to take the kids to school because she is running late, make it worse.

I get up at the same time. I get ready in less than twenty minutes. Why does she need so much time to be ready for work? She seems to be lagging lately. She used to be cute. But look at her waistline, her skin, even her bosom now. Nothing is the same after our two kids. Sometimes I hate to walk by her side. People must think we are an unlikely couple.

My stomach churns with the familiar irritation. I control it by taking in a couple of long breaths. Be calm, I tell myself. It will be a different world soon.

"I have a meeting!" I yell back. I don't, but a change of plan is not allowed today. I have a perfect plan and I don't want any more delay.

"You do?" She comes down and looks at me funny. I hate it when she questions me, and she knows it.

"Marie..." I use the old trick of sighing impatiently. She avoids argument more often than not.

"I'll do it. Go before you're late." She gives in as I expected.

"Get up earlier tomorrow." There will be no tomorrow, but she doesn't need to know. There is a tinge of guilt when I said it, but the plan is set and I'm not going to deviate. Anna is waiting.

"And don't forget to take care of that throat of yours." I shout before closing the door behind me. That makes me sound like a good husband, while driving a lasting impression to help my plan. I pull away from the house. Goodbye, Marie--hopefully for the last time.

Anna and I will be perfect together. My groin tingles at the thought of her tan, firm body. She will never let herself go like Marie did. She loves me. Better yet, she worships me. Who, except for Marie, wouldn't? The nurses secretly call me the sexiest doctor in the hospital. I have to wade through the pheromone every time I pass their station. The giggles on their lips, the lust in their eyes all tell me they want me. I take it all in and I want more. I make sure to flash them a devastating smile upon leaving. It drives them crazy.

It's only natural Anna and I ended up together. We look divine as a couple. Soon we can be a couple in public. I can't wait to wrap her in my arms and press her to her bed. Unlike Marie, she is always ready for conquer.

* * *

Roland seems a little irate today. I'm not sure what I did wrong. All I asked was if he could take the kids to school, since I worked late last night and had some trouble falling asleep. My sore throat seems to be worse this morning.

I know what people say. They say it to my face sometimes. You're a doctor's wife; you don't need to work. I can't seem to make them understand money is not the reason for me to work. It helps, since the house is too big and the cars too expensive, but Roland had to have them. I'm a doctor, he said. We can't drive cheap cars.

I sensed his change when I had our first baby. I asked him to rinse out the bowl I just ate dinner with after my mother left. "You want me to wash it?" He looked incredulous: "I'm a doctor!" With that, he left the room. I cried all night.

He wasn't like this when I met him. He worked hard at school and as an intern. It was that work ethic and the determination attracted me to him. He wasn't so vain about his looks back then either. Along the road of building a career, he allowed the title to shadow his destination.

What happened to us? He seems to be more and more irritated toward me for no obvious reasons. I take care of the kids and the house. I don't complain because I love my work. It provides challenge and satisfaction no other tasks could compare. I only wish Roland could help out a little more.

The nurses flirt with him, I know. I notice how much he enjoys it, too. He won't cheat on me. We have two kids and they are important to him. He loves the boys. Too bad, Anna. Don't think I don't notice how you look at Roland every time he stops by our station. He will never leave me for a younger woman. He loves his family.

I was lost in my thoughts when Jason mumbled: "Mom, I don't feel good." I reach to the back seat and feel his forehead. He feels normal. It's the younger child syndrome. His brother won the spelling contest at school yesterday. He must feel left out with all the attention going to his brother. I search in my purse but find out I don't have any fruit rollups there.

"Here. Take one of this. It made mommy's throat better. It will help you, too." I gave him a lozenge. Roland told me these were for adults only and he got them just for me. I haven't tried it yet--they are usually too sweet and I'm watching my weight. Roland was sweet to get them for me. Deep down, he still cares. I don't see how a lozenge can hurt a kid. I quench any possible complaints from his brother by giving him one, too. Now everybody is happy.

I hope we won't be late for school or my work.

* * *

The sun is out, bright and warm. It's a symbol of the life Anna and I will have together. I found out how to fill those lozenges with the stuff I got from the Internet. It took me some work. They say it kills fast with very little discomfort. Since they were talking about possums, I had to double the dose. Divorce is for men who can't carry out a great plan, not for me. I am, after all, a doctor.

I patted my pocket just to make sure the regular lozenges are there. I will swap them out later in the hospital--by Marie's death bed. Anna, the kids and I will be a perfect family. I can just see it. Wait for me, Anna. I will be there soon.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Golden Voice

She was crowned by the media as Queen of Songs. Her voice was called Golden. There have been as many singers as there are stars in the sky, but few had a golden voice like hers.

She was abducted and sold by her own uncle, and later adopted by strangers as a young child. Throughout her adult life, after attaining fame and fortune, she tried in vain to locate her birth parents. She never found them.

Her death was equally mysterious as her birth. The following is a common story shrouded by the veil of unknown.

Her parents were believed to be either college educators or business owners. Her mother sent the little girl to her grandparents’ place to be looked after when her parents' third child was near full term, where her uncle sold the young girl for money to purchase opium. Her parents searched frantically upon the discovery, but the little girl vanished without a trace.

She was probably sold more than once, until a family with the last name Zhou in Shanghai adopted the six-year-old girl. Her good fortune didn’t last long. In her second year of school she was sold again by her adopted father, who was another opium addict; this time though, she was sold to a brothel. The landlord, Xhe, from whom her adopted parents subleased the house, took pity on her and arranged for her to work as a servant to the owner of a performing group. She also learned how to sing and dance while not working.

One day a piano teacher from another performing group came over as a guest, and overheard her singing. Her voice, as he described, was crisp and sweet and he recognized it as a rare talent. He talked her “owner” into let him take her to his group and be taught by him. She learned zealously on the art of singing, dancing and acting. She had a cute face and petite status, and was well liked by her teachers and peers. This was probably the happiest time of her life.

Her big break came when one day the leading lady of an evening show failed to arrive on time. The owner summoned her to be the replacement, and her voice of a golden canary and the performance of a young and fresh face wowed the crowd. She was given the stage name of Zhou Xuan. The rest, as they put it, was history. The year was 1932, and she was only fourteen.

During the near twenty years of her career, she made 42 movies, recorded more than100 songs—many of them were popular in common household, and some of them are still being performed by singers today. Her movies and concerts were often sold out on the first day when they came out. She was hailed both as the queen of songs and the queen of motion pictures.

If only her personal life was equally perfect and brilliant. But life has its own way of making its mark.

After the group she was working under disassembled, she joined a different group and worked with a fellow performer Yen. He was nine years older than her and perhaps filled the void of a father figure in her life. They married in 1938, but divorced in three years. Both events were headline news. It was reported by friends that he had raised his hands to her during arguments--which I suspect was not the kind of father figure she was looking for.

She fell for a merchant’s son Chu while working in Hong Kong during the late 40s. He captured both her money and her heart, and obviously kept the former and discarded the latter. She went back to Shanghai in 1950 with a broken heart and a soon-to-be-born young son.

Subsequently an art technician in the same film company entered her life and, just when they prepared to get married, he was sentenced to jail for fraud and rape. Soon after the delivery of her second son, she developed mental illness and was institutionalized. She never left the hospital and passed away in 1957, at the age of thirty-nine.

However, this was not how it really was from what I heard.

The version I heard was she was lured back to work in China, while her career in Hong Kong was going well, by a friend who persuaded her with a hidden agenda. Unbeknownst to her, this friend joined the communist party shortly after the revolution. She was persecuted and imprisoned for years before she finally died in the “hospital.” Her fiancĂ© was jailed for guilty by association.

My initial thought was: that was unlikely as she was only an entertainer—there was no point in persecuting her. A recent book I read on the revolution of China and the many, many waves of persecution progressed there changed my mind. If the party was capable of persecuting its founding members, to whom they owed their revolutionary success, and dragging millions of civilian into hell on earth for more than a decade, it would be perfectly capable of sacrificing a mere entertainer.

The reason was--not that they needed one—she was the paramount of the “exploited class” and therefore the crowning example of an “enemy of the revolution.” In the minds of the crazed leaders and blind followers, she had to be attacked, persecuted and eliminated. In a place where evil resides, human life has the value of an ant.

The truth couldn’t be verified, since all information coming out of China is censored. Her own son voiced doubt on her mental illness, but he couldn’t substantiate it either.

Her life may have started and ended in tragedy, but her talents dazzled like a radiant comet in the dark sky. Her songs continue to echo in the hearts of many. Happiness may have eluded her entirely too short of a life, but I hope she had finally found peace in another, more sensible world.

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