The understandings of life, translated…
On the day of the wake, everybody was busying about, allowing her, to crawl all over the places on her own, she was once, the most loved daughter of the great grandmother, she’d cried so hard, she’d lost her sense of direction, and, she’d ended up, crawling toward someone else’s doorsteps, it was, truly, embarrassing…
Yang: being born into a huge family, there are, so many instances of weddings and funerals, along with an assortment of occasions, since I was very young, I’d found myself, to be especially intrigued with the funerals, to this day, I can still point out, when which household had had a funeral, whether they’d made the occasion grand or just kept things low key, whether there was a burial, or a cremation. The funeral march would definitely pass through our front doors, and, in the mountainsides of Tainan back in the 1990s, I’d stay hidden behind the aluminum windows, and peeked out, feeling that I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t help myself, how many people did I see off, whom I was familiar with, and whom I wasn’t? More than a hundred, maybe! What, did they leave behind in my life? I’d found myself, to be especially good at recognitions, not just one person, but, using the people as the focal points, and, made the connections, and, every time that someone appeared became a lively “show”, with their lives behind them, proceeded by the long lines of stories, like those funeral marchers that marched out.
There were many afternoons I’d spent, at school, drawing, other than secretly making pictures of temple marches, actually, I’d love drawing out the funeral marches even more, I’d drawn in secrecy, this just shows, how taboo the matter really is, and, after the drawings are done, I’d, torn it all up again: the son-in-law who placed the papers are at the head of the marches, then, the men who hauled out the livestock, the grandchildren who carried out the lamps, then, the drums, the band who led the funeral marches, the traditional wailers……endless number of marchers, those who beat on the drums, and the religious officials, preceded the coffins. The last group that came out were, the group of offspring; how many days that I’d helped my mother, taken in the hung clothes, in the backyard, I’d heard the sound of the band, and, rode out quickly on my motorcycle, to find out the origins of the noises, that, was the services before the day of the burial, and I just went, for the traditional Taiwanese opera of how a man went to hell, to save his own mother. I didn’t dare stay for long, fearing that people might think I was weird, so, I’d rode back and forth, back, and forth, made several trips, this was even more weird, I suppose. Once, the deceased was close by to our house, my grandmother had gone to help the families prepare for the snacks, and, I’d taken along a stool, and sat in, with the family members, to get the best seat in the house. Actually, the books I’d loved reading on my spare time has nothing to do with literature, when I was in the elementary years, the most often flipped through books by me were on the rituals of burials and funerals, and, I’d dared not check out the items on the subject matter of death, I’d read them stealthily, the discoveries of death is endless, and back then, I was a teenage boy who’d just arrived on earth.
There were a ton of elderly persons around me, my life was destined, to be plagued, by the sums of death that’s for certain. When I was in the third grade, the first time I bore witness, to someone I loved die, my great grandmother from my mother’s side who’d had a stroke, chose the day that there was a wedding, to fall into a state of daze, as the guests kept arriving outside, nobody knew, that death, was happening inside the doors. All of it was too dramatic, everybody started panicking, I clearly recalled the look of fright on my great aunt’s face, that, was the day she was having a wedding for her son! I’d also recalled my great grandmother’s bloated cheek, she couldn’t get enough air in, and started breathing real hard, and, weird sound came from her throat, is this, what near-death looks like? Is my great grandmother try to talk? I’d stayed close, to the doorways, feeling my great grandmother’s pains, and, people came in and out of the room, my grandmother worked, to change my great grandmother’s clothes, with tears running down her cheeks, and mumbling: the elders needed to choose a good day! But, this day, is just, way too good, if our great grandmother really dies, would we still hold the wedding? My great grandmother had on nine layers of her final set of clothes, and, as everything was set, she’d still had a breath left inside of her, she’d lived, and, she’d lived on for three more years. In the end, on that day, everybody pretended as if nothing had happened, and rushed to the wedding banquet, but, this event had, impacted me, a great deal, I’d made speeches about it, written about it in my novels, and, as I was talking to my teacher, I’d recalled the days I’d mocked my great grandmother, before she was about to die, how her limbs started shaking hard, making the weird noises with her throat, and, because I did it too well, even my grandmother couldn’t help, but laugh, and, thinking back, it was, too weird, how’d I managed, to imitate her to the like?
There was, also a fun side too, for instance, when my great grandmother who’d lived until her nineties died, there was a party every single night at our house, as if it were, the New Year’s, it’s truly, a happy funeral, the color red was everywhere, back then, my almost eighty year old great aunt led the way, of the crying funeral marchers, for the sake of her safety, I’d had to, redirect the traffic for her, and, the day of my great grandmother’s funeral, everybody else was busying about, leaving her, crawling on the tarp ground, crying hard, she was once, my great grandmother’s most loved youngest child, she’d cried to the point that she’d lost the sense of direction, ended on someone else’s doorsteps, it was, truly, embarrassing! Or, perhaps, because the crematorium was filled with people, and, as the good time came, group after group of people came, to get their loved ones cremated too, the scene was chaotic, there were cymbals sounding off, drums too, and, based off of rituals, we were all led, to offer incense to the god who watches over the land, this was also, the most chaotic hour, my mother is totally clueless, she’d gotten separated from the group that we were in, holy, we’re the Yang, burying our great grandmother Chen, but, which group, did my mother belong to?
In the epilogue of “The Boy Aged Sixty”, I’d written about the history of the funeral marches, in my mind, I’d made up a small funeral marcher, that was, back in 2010, and now, the marchers are more in numbers, how, do I begin, telling the story, and, where, does the story end?
So, these are your childhood memories, your encounters with death as a child, and, whether or not you realized, those earlier encounters with death had impacted you, and, you just don’t realize this until you are much older…
Chou: Fu-Ming talked more about death, let me talk on illness then! My great grandparents died early, there were many who’d died young in my grandparents’ generations, my father had an early onset of heart disease, was taken into the hospitals when he was younger, my sisters, in their forties and fifties got diagnosed with illness. Most of us in the family are only looking fine on the outside, back when we were younger, we’d hit the spotlights, but, we’d had the inheritances of aging earlier on, and faster too, I deeply recalled that back when I was younger, I was playing with my cousin-uncle, we were around the same age, I’d asked him, “Where is your father, how come I’d never seen him?”, he’d told me, “He went to Suchow, to sell duck eggs”. Because of how young he was back then, his face was often over casted with sadness and sorrows and worries, that, was from losing his father, actually, my youngest great uncle died when he was real young of illness; my grandfather was once diagnosed with tuberculosis, back then, it was, incurable, he’d had his separate eating utensils at mealtime, every morning, my little grandmother would make him hard broiled egg, cooked with crystalized sugar, it was said, to help him get his health better, my big grandmother would sit at the front door, bathing herself, and, my little grandmother would be blocked outside, and normally, the kids brought the egg in.
Because I’d gotten the inheritance of their ill health, we’d set up this huge medical net intentionally, everybody in my house knew how to eat right, my father works for the Department of Sanitation, my great grandfather on my mother’s side was an amazing Chinese medicine doctor, so, my mother took a strong interest in the medical field. After we’d opened up a pharmacy, the young nurses from the clinic would live with us, they are all late teens, who’d just graduated from school, and would play with us, I recalled, that one of them even took my younger sister and I home to her house in Tainan, the very first time I’d encountered a family that’s migrated from China, the mother in her traditional Chinese dress, with their dark Japanese style dorm, and the many holed roads of Tainan, I felt, that everything was way too gray, it’d made me feel awful.
Why were there so many younger nurses in my house? Could it be, that they all had crushes on my father? My father, when he was younger, was beautiful like a woman, but unfortunately, he was totally traditional, and unromantic.
My sisters and I were all born, with the assistance of the nurses at my father’s clinic, they’d come to our home, to help our mother deliver us, they’d loved us very much, and would often take us on trips. When there’s inoculations given at our elementary schools, my father and the nurses would head over to the nurses’ station, and, the other elementary age children all cried out of fear, only us, went to the clinic happily, and, we’d gotten, a TON of candies when we’d returned.
Not afraid of shots, eaten a ton of fish oils, vitamin, stomach meds………, we’d gotten shots after shots of nutrients into our systems, back then, we were all, very healthy, my mother said, that we’re all healthy, that we can POUND down those typhoons that came, my younger brother and sister both won the first and second place trophies for being the “healthiest children around”, the fats from their cheeks, were about to fall off their faces, the prizes were formulas and condensed milk, it’d become our sustenance; we’d all gotten fed, to become very strong, my mother utilized her pharmacy, to change our body types, and, made us into healthy and fat children, she was, so very proud of that.
Because there were nurses at the house, and both my parents can write prescriptions, their pharmacy became a miniature doctor’s office, and, the locals didn’t like hospitals, and, whenever they had minor ailments, they’d come to our pharmacy, and so, I’d learned to dress up the wounds, every morning when I woke, I’d sterilized the needles, grinded the pills into powder form, and, the routines of making the powders into packets. I’d especially loved doing this, I’d even wanted to become a nurse, until one day, as I was letting out the sterilized liquids, the jar broke, and, it’d cut me, and, there was only a little bit of blood, I’d fallen backwards, passed out, and, when I came to, I was, already in my own bed, thus, ended, the dreams of me, becoming a nurse.
But, my mother still wanted me to marry a doctor, we’d all laughed about it, without realizing, that my mother has her own worries, I’d once had a boyfriend who was a doctor, my mother would press me about how things were going with him, and, the result of her over-involvement was that we’d all taken her advice, and, found men who were, poorer, and poorer still, and, with our high up ladies ways, we’d become other people’s wives who’d nickeled and dimed, before we wed, we couldn’t even do our own laundry, without ever taking up a spatula to cook, but, each one of us was more competitive than the rest, we’d all handled everything ourselves. Then, we’d all, fallen ill, at young ages, at the age of just forty, I was diagnosed with a dry condition of my skins due to the imbalance of my immune system, I couldn’t produce tears or saliva, and, at the beginning stages of my illness, I couldn’t even open my mouth, couldn’t talk, and, when it got real serious, I’d wanted to kill myself, but, through caring and taking care of myself, I can now, coexist in peace with my medical condition, I’d already forgotten what healthy looked like now. Nor would I want to tell you what it feels like, to be diagnosed with what I have, because nobody else can know, if illnesses are a negative kind of metaphor, then, the only one who can redirect it toward the more positive is oneself.
And, passing through my days, keeping the pains hovered, I’d become bad tempered, lost patience too, and, I’d only carried my patience toward writing and my own students, this kept me indoors, turned down all the social calls, and, back when I was younger, I was really a social butterfly.
After my younger sister was diagnosed with cancer in her forties, she’d made everything herself, handmade soaps, handmade purses, even toothpastes, face creams, she’d made herself, and all I could do, was accompany beside her, what the ill needs the most, is the accompaniment, four years ago, when I took a break, my younger sister went with me to Hong Kong to stay for six months, we’d lived the life of extravagance, I really do miss those days, when we’d spent time with each other, as sisters.
Why would my family members die early? Take away the hereditary factor, it’s probably because we ate too well, we’d had too much nutrition, my great grandfather was a vendor of things, he’d sold everything from fishes to the goods, we’d needed nothing, loved the delicate food items, all of my great aunts, when they were younger, were all beauties, but, as they reached middle age, they’d either died, or had long term conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, they all looked like the obese beauties of the Tang Dynasty, and, we sisters, are similar too, being too delicate on food is actually not at all healthy, and now, I’m into eating the food items, in their rawest forms, a little less starch, a bit more vegetables and beans, having a healthy diet is very important.
And so, these conditions you are having now, may not at all, be a hereditary problem after all, it may be your diets, and, because of how we don’t care at all what we put into our systems, that, is why, modern day people has so many varieties of cancers, crawling up on them, and, it’s all due to one’s habits, it has nothing to do with heredity at all.