Each and Every Journey

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

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| This is the 211th story of Our Life Logs |

Who am I but many stories—

Each and every adventure far greater than the last.

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1 | My Father Especially

I was born in 1964 in Nanjing, a city in eastern China immersed in the nation’s deep culture and enduring history. My parents—my father especially—were very liberal for the society in which we lived. A retired army officer, my father was well-educated at the time. He loved music and taught me to play accordions. He loved nature and took us to hike in the mountains. He loved to dress up and taught us how to put together clothes to look nice. He loved taking photos for us with his first-generation, made-in-China camera. More importantly, he asked us to study. He loved reading classic novels in English, and encouraged us to learn English at a very early age. He always voiced his opinions regardless of the consequences and taught us to do the same. I admired him.

From him, I understood that the mind was valuable, and I was so often reminded that I was valuable, too.

My father and me.
My father and me.

Though the inside of our home was happy, China was experiencing social changes that brought a lot of hardship. In 1966, the Cultural Revolution began and put millions of innocent people in danger over the course of the next ten years. Families became separated, homes were ransacked, and many suffered torturous, sometimes fatal.

One day when I was about six years old, we were at home waiting for our father to come back from work. The sky darkened, and he had not yet walked through the front door. We waited, and waited more. Eventually, one of my father’s coworkers showed up, bringing us the most unwanted news.

“Your dad is not coming home today.”

He told us that my father had been arrested. At that time, government troops had been formed to uncover people who were perceived to have affiliation with the anti-revolutionary “516” Movement. As part of this exercise, my father got detained. Wrongly.

He did not return for six months.

I couldn’t imagine what torture he had been put through—it was suffering for our entire family. The years following his release seemed stained with a dark cloud of anxiety over our heads. If my father was ever late coming home, I immediately panicked.

While it was sad that my sister and I had to grow up this way, I believe it allowed us to grow up quickly. This maturity toughened our minds, but it did not break our hearts—my father would never allow that.

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2 | Would You Believe Me

The cloud hanging over my family impacted my school life too, as my father had been labeled a “bad person.” As a young girl, it was hard for me to understand the injustice, and I began to take on a heart of frustration and embarrassment. It could have gone on like that for the rest of my life, but thankfully, my parents encouraged me to be hopeful and diligent. Time would pass and the perceptions of others would fade.

If I had waited in my bitterness, I would have robbed myself of all the wonderful things I learned. Luckily, I didn’t. I found that I loved adding new information to my mind’s eye. I wanted to know why, and how, and when. Always. I grew up to be the star student—if I’m being candid—which allowed more for adventures in my life than what was on the factory compounds. At 15, I was accepted into the best high school in our province.

The perceptions of others did indeed fade. I was happy, and I found that it was easier to dream with a happy heart.

My last year of high school with two of my friends (I’m on the right).
My last year of high school with two of my friends (I’m on the right).

After graduating high school, I dreamed of joining the world of broadcasting journalism. I had absorbed my father’s affinity for the English language and I wanted to do something that spoke to my heart. My passion met with my hard work, and I got admitted into the most prestigious journalism school in China: Beijing Broadcasting Institute. I suppose those around me saw me as a great success, and maybe I was.

I continued to the end of my five-year program and finished in high esteem. I was able to get into the institute’s graduate school directly out of undergraduate—a feat that was fondly spoken of. This route promised a secure, successful future. This pedestal was very, very high.

And would you believe me if I said I jumped off?

In front of Beijing Broadcasting Institute.
In front of Beijing Broadcasting Institute.

Well, I’ve been known to make decisions—lofty decisions—on a moment’s notice. I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new during my first year of graduate school, and even more, no one was really in the mood for academia. The 1989 Tian’anmen Square protests burst out, causing the streets to be flooded by student-led groups—leaving classrooms bare. So, I decided to drop out, which seemed to be a crazy idea. A master’s degree was a huge deal in 1980s’ China, let alone one from the best school of its kind.

I went to ask my father, who was then working in Zhuhai, a southern city, and guess what he said?

“Sure, go ahead and quit, and come to me.”

His words echoed the voice in my heart. The college officials, however, told me I wasn’t allowed to quit and refused to release my paperwork—documents that were crucial to my legal identity. Ha! I had met fear years ago, and this wasn’t as fearful. I simply packed and left.