Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nanjing de Er Bo Bo

Yes, Er Bo Bo.
That would be Er (second) Bo Bo (uncle who is older brother of father). He's the uncle who is philosophical, who is traditional, who is open-minded, who is curious, who has taught economics at Nanjing University, who has endured 9 years in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, who has lived in New York City, who has now returned to Nanjing in full splendor. Here we are at the front gate of Nanjing University. The old professor visiting.
I am always thrilled to see Er Bo Bo. The accessible wiseman. A sage to hang out with. He has told me stories of our family, his father who is my Yeh Yeh, of China's radical histories, of how food doesn't taste like it used to, of his observations of the U.S. Of late he is happy to describe to me, in his high enthusiasm and booming Chinese, about how he courted he second wife, at the age of 73.
His first wife had passed away in New York and so he returned home to Nanjing. He wasn't planning on a younger woman, but I'm not surprised at all, considering the vitality that I've always known Er Bo Bo to have and since he showed me this picture of himself, climbing to the top of a mountain just before he met Teacher Lu. (You have to tilt left to view it.)
In this photo, Er Bo Bo had arrived after tour season to Guilin, so there were no more tours. He hired a private guide who showed him up one of the mountains and was able to take the photo of an exuberant man who would never let life weigh him down. He is the winner.
And so now, after 8 years of marriage (past the itch, he smiles) he and Teacher Lu have been granted a blissful companionship, where they have homes in Nanjing and Zhejiang (about a 1/2 an hour away). They also winter in the south, in Guandong, where her daughter gladly welcomes them to live during the cold months. He is now 82, she almost 70...they make fun of each other like teenagers, like the same foods and accompany each other wherever the other one goes. Their old people's passes allow them to ride the bus for free and enter museums for free or half price.
My Er Bo Bo hardly goes to campus anymore (he's hardly in Nanjing anymore, what with new digs) so his colleague, Professor Zhou, another economics dude, also teaching at the same business school, also retired, wanted to invite us for a stroll on campus leading to a most delicious restaurant, where we ate soup dumplings, tender reads, and scallion/ginger steamed fish. Here they are at the steps of their teaching grounds. Prof Zhou has a buddhic quality to him. Very quiet and peaceful. At the restaurant, when my uncle was trying to find the other chicken leg in the soup, asking where is it?, I looked at Prof. Zhou and said, maybe it ran off. He chuckled with a most glorious grin.
This lovely track, new and plastic, used to be the center for criticism for all of Jiangshu province during the Cultural Revolution. Right-leaning, bourgeoise government officials were forced to their knees by Red Guards and beaten so hard that bowels came out.

It was cold and soulful in Nanjing. As always. I had visited here 22 years ago, when I taught for the year in Guangzhou. A valley girl in the depths of Nanjing winter, I don't think I took my coat off for a week. Even so, I was finally feeling Chinese, not having spoken English for a long stretch of time, 'roughing it,' empathizing with each Cultural Revolution story, seeing my face as a majority. It was then that Er Bo Bo, one night, kept talking about 'You Americans don't save' and 'You Americans spend as you like' (this was 1986) and 'You Americans use beyond your means of resources,' and 'You Americans...' I told him then, I'm not American I'm Chinese, and he kind of snickered and said, 'Huh, you have no idea what it is to be Chinese.' Now looking back, he did me a favor setting me straight--he had no idea about this 'sensitive identity situation' that Americans usually get laughed about by the old country. It couldn't have come from a kinder person. That night, though, I still spun in disorientation and cried 6 hours 'til the wee hours of the morn.

This time I come to Nanjing, fully knowing. By dint of the English language being the form that I experience depth of life in, I am american. Also by dint of freedom. Also by dint of privacy. No matter the progress, I will always know Nanjing as being so so so so so so cold. The better to warm onself, yes?
Front of the Presidential Palace. As Nanjing (meaning southern capitol) was the spot for the father of Chinese democracy, and first President of China, Sun Yat-sen. And also the spot for Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalist Government in 1948. Until the People's Liberation Army, well, liberated it and switched the capitol back up to Beijing (nothern capitol). BTW Tokyo is known in Chinese (and Japanese) as Dongjing, which means eastern capitol.
This is the grand hall running through the center of the Palace. Suffice it to say, a lotta power has stepped through this corridor. In the 1850's, during the Qing dynasty, there was an anti-feudal movement from the south, in Guangxi province, called the Taiping Tianguo (Taiping Heavenly Kingdom). Led by Hong Xiu Quan, they made their way north, en route to overthrowing the emperor in Beijing, but decided to build their own palace at this site (which was used by emperors of past dynasties as retreats or strategic pens).
Lots of gold and beauty, secret rooms, meeting places, concubine lounges, just like Tian An Men. The thing is, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (which was based on many Christian principles), never really overthrew the national power, and got distracted thinking that they conquered up to Nanjing, no prob, were happy with their successes and got cocky. After 10 years, the Qing dynasty crushed them and remained in power. So one wing of the Palace documents the Taiping...
...and other wings show the meeting rooms during Chiang-kai shek's time. Zhou En Lai, the Premiere during Mao's reign, met frequently in this room as the Communist envoy, when the Nationalists and the Coms agreed to cease fire on each other in order to fight the Japanese.

The rape of Nanjing has been documented widely, introduced extensively to the U.S. by Chinese-American historian Iris Chang. It was a particularly brutal and inhumane attack on the city during the Sino-Japanese war.
This is Chiang Kai Shek's Presidential office. It ain't oval. It's at this time I get the facts about Yeh Yeh straight. In my play, I made him a full general in Chiang Kai Shek's army. I knew he was actually a Lt. General, but didn't realize he wasn't in contact with Chiang Kai Shek. Er Bo Bo told me that Chiang had sent Yeh Yeh a photo of himself, but they had never met. Yeh Yeh was actually in command of troops as delegated by the provinces he was assigned to. My play is even more wonderfully fictional now.
This is a famous 4-word quote by Sun Yat-sen--Tian Xia Wei Gong--under heaven for the people. Sun Yat-sen and his democracy movement did finally overthrow the Qing dynasty and ended China's 4 thousand years of feudal past. Interestingly, Sun was schooled at the University of Hawaii, where Obama's folks met.
I had to get Er Bo Bo to model his hot 10 yuan gloves that had the olympic Bird's Nest stadium imprinted on them.  He was also really stoked that his hat was 15 yuan.
There is this imperial tradition where only the Emperor (and Chiang Kai Shek) enters through the center doors; everyone else enters from the sides.

I kind of wanted to go to the Nanjing museum that documented the Japanese occupation, but Teacher Lu was not into it. It was a horrific time, and for those who lived through it...besides my Er Bo Bo told me, it's just pictures.

So we went to the Confucian Temple instead.
Of course when we were at the Confucian temple, Er Bo Bo would ask me about Confucius' most famous saying: When people are born, their nature is benevolent. Er Bo Bo asks if I believe this to be true, or is it that when people are born, their nature is corrupt? I think about this, as we are surrounded by a huge mall of stores and he states that the Confucian flavor at this temple is no longer present. I believe that people are born with benevolent natures.
On the way to the Imperial Testing Site, where the mandarins would take their exams, there are statues of the refined and literary figures of the past. Here is Wu Cheng'en, who wrote the famous Journey to the West that features Monkey King and Eight Pig. He was alive from 1500-1559, during the Ming Dynasty.
Here are some more scholars.
This is the front of the actual Confucian Temple. It costs 20 yuan to get in, so I just hung by the lion to get a feel for it.
This is a little theater behind the temple and down the corridor of souvenirs. Teacher Lu, who is super thrifty, sprang for some beautiful polished stones that she puts in her planters in Zhenjiang. It was 10 yuan for as many as you could grab with one hand. I bought two decks of cards: one with all of the emperors and the other with all of Mao's cultural revolution quotes.

Nanjing folks are known as Big Radishes. They are plain, not slick, actually sincere. They see the Shanghainese as slick and superficial. They say when a Shanghainese person falls, they worry not about their injury, but rather if their clothes are stained. There is something very wholesome about the Nanjingese. When I was buying some jade knicknacks, I was quite the Big Pumpkin myself. One small jade backscratcher was 10 yuan and the bigger one was 15 yuan. The shopkeeper was talking about how she didn't have room for them anymore so they were already discounted. I'm all, one small one and one big one for 30 yuan. Er Bo Bo's all, it's only 25. And then I'm all two small ones and one big one for 40 yuan. Er Bo Bo's all, it's only 35. He tells the shopkeeper, artists can't bargain.  I manage to walk away with the 3 for 35. Duh.
And so here is the proper front gate of the Confucian Temple. Haagen Dasz, KFC, and Mickey D's to greet.
This is my favorite spot to chat with Er Bo Bo in his apartment.
In this room is a cabinet, where he keeps his archives: writings, recordings, all meaningful memorabilia, organized, easy to access at any time. He loves to bring out old photos, of his daughter Tina, of his grandson Peter, of the time he first visited the U.S. in 1980, when he was reunited with his mother and father, my Nai Nai and Yeh Yeh, after being separated for 30 years. 

I always thought that he wanted to follow Mao. It turns out that he was already a college student and didn't want to be another mouth to feed in Taiwan. Also he was ill at the time and didn't want to burden his family. Politically, he really didn't think that the family could escape; he also didn't know that the door to China would be slammed shut by the communists. So he stayed by himself in China. His older brother was already married and in another city. Through a series of lucky turns, he was assigned to teach at Nanjing University, where he now has this apartment free of rent and a comfortable pension.
Photos of Nai Nai, and also a picture of me with Su--I was 15, she was 8. Nai Nai was so thrilled to see her son after a 30 year separation. Er Bo Bo tells the story of how he was staying at our house, and sleeping in the guest room next to Yeh Yeh and Nai Nai's room. In the middle of the night, Nai Nai came into his room and made sure the blankets were covering him so he wouldn't be cold. 
Yeh Yeh at the center, surrounded by his descendants.
Er Bo Bo celebrating his 53rd birthday in the U.S. in 1980. He was assigned to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution from the time he was 40 until he was 49. At the prime of his life, he did not resist or become embittered with the simple life he became assigned. He is a jovial yet unsentimental man. He is content to be able to think things through, and as he says, put things down.
And so, even more robust at 73.
The new Nanjing train station is super cool--it is right on Xuanwu Lake.  So I got to say goodbye to Er Bo Bo next to the lovely, natural, historic lake.
From the train station, there is a huge plaza leading to the lake.
And it is open, no railings. You can fall right in.
I always see more life, a clearer, brighter life having visited with Er Bo Bo.

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