"To Live” in Beijing:

The first few years I was here, the people examined my family as if animals in zoo, judging us by our appearances. As an American citizen, I am ---much considered as a foreigner here in China. People would pay regular visits to our home, not through kindness ----but took a glimpse of our “strange appearance”. It was 1997, China was still looked at as a third world country; not a lot of foreigners were willing to move here. Unlike most Americans here, who lives in an American compound, my family (excluding myself) decided to “blend in” with local society and culture, so we moved into a “Si he yuan” in a small hu-tong located central Beijing.

To me, living in China was not a pleasant experience. There were only two types of Chinese: the type that would gawk at us speechlessly with their curious eyes wide open and the type that would yell out insults or comment loudly on how barbaric we are.

“Yong gui zhi! Get on home!”

“We Chinese had had enough of you foreigners! Sooner or later..sooner or later…”

They would discuss on how the foreigners take advantage of them right in front of us, assuming we do not understand Chinese, and would be shocked when my father spoke perfect and fluent Chinese back. Their yellow faces would go red, filled with guilt and shame, and I would stand aside enjoying the scene. Yet, I do not blame them for such anger; for China in the past hundred years had been constantly evaded by other countries. It is in their culture now, and their hatred was passed on to generations. To them, I probably looked the same as the person who killed evaded their country years ago.


Si he yuan – A large Chinese traditional housing, consist of four parts and is arranged to “feng shui”.

Hu tong – Beijing dialect of calling a small alley / street.

Yong gui zhi – A insult referred to foreigners. (Foreign ghost/barbarians)


Right outside the big red gate of the Si he yuan we possessed, the small hu-tong led to the main street. Within this hu-tong, it is often filled with exhausted baggers, tricycles and workers, where they all parked here to avoid the stinging sun and chat about the inequality they had to face that day. It is said, that the Chinese culture had four thousand years of history, but by the appearance, it was reasonable to doubt its strength. As Darwin’s Origin of the Species has forcibly stated the harsh truth, which definitely applied here more than anywhere else in the world. This “Head of the Dragon” had nothing but great inequality, poverty and the gloomy sand-storms; which would often cover the sky for days. The poverty had made going out at night in Beijing unpleasant and creepy, for their will be hundreds pairs of hungry eyes staring like predators. They always looked as if they could be fed on human flesh if it is necessary to survive. Sand-storm had always darkened the sky and enclosed the city with its suppressive mass of dusts. Bicycles flood the street, fighting their rights against all sorts of other vehicles and people. In other words, order is not applied in this city.

My father was one of the first that started the car industry here.

“Yes, work for me, and everything will be provided, food, shelter, and additional wage payment.” My father would promise his workers.

Not had eaten for quiet a while; the Chinese would nod their heads like chickens pecking seeds on the ground, and would only learn their lesson later: that there is nothing as easy as that in the world nowadays. Before they discover that they had not received the reasonable amount of payment equal to a whole month worth work, they would be replaced by a new group of workers. Yes-- my father cheated on the Chinese, but he had never faced any problems. It seems to be a Chinese thing also, to take in all the grief and sufferings and blame on themselves.

My mother on the other hand, had always taught me what my father does was wrong, but was necessary for his business to be well and going. Business in my eyes had been always evil, yet my goal is to be just like my father, to be successful. Sometimes, I believe that evil needs to be done for something greater to be achieved.

After a while with my mothers’ fluent Chinese she had made some friends with the local Chinese. One day, one of our neighbors invited for us for lunch. Mother was powerless rejecting their great generosity, therefore we went. It was a much smaller house compared to ours, in a way, tiny compared to ours. The door cracked open, with eye of children peeking, and crowded behind them. They stared at my face, looking at this strange looking man.

They had already made a table full of Beijing “xiao che” which let out a stream of vapor into the air. My mother and I set down on to the unstable chair; trying not to display my unwillingness of being here I pasted a smile on my face. The grand pa was sitting across from us, with one eye yellow showing a sign of hepatitis.

“Eat! Eat! These are some of the most famous ta ma de Beijing xiao chi ! make yourself feel at home.” The grand pa said generously while he stirs up the food with his used chopstick covered in gray. Mother frowned a little, (I wonder if it was the grand pa or is it his reference to “mother” in his speech.) but only for a second.

Despite the fact that the food’s appearance looked suspicious, and the fact that the container looked filthy, the taste was incredibly good. Mother let out a sigh of relieve when she saw that I was actually enjoying it.

“There was once an accident in this hu-tong, I remembered” announced the son of the owner. He was an educated university student, where the whole family counted on him. He had a pair of glasses, and the way in which he appeared created a strong contrast amongst his uneducated family.

“It was hot and dry, that day” he continued. “A worker carrying a bag full of rice was on the ground in the hu-tong, dying of exhaustion. There, he lied gasping for air, but the air had only made his mouth drier. On top of him, is a weight of more than ten

kilograms. People passed him, and some would look back once, and some would stop for a second, to stare at this dying man. No one took the heavy bag off him, there the


Xiao chi- A name for local area snacks and food. Eg. A typical American xiao chi is hamburger

Ta ma de – A dirty slang word, frequently used, and sometimes used as verb, noun and adjective.


bag lied on top of him, suppressing him. More and more people gathered to look at the dying man, no one helped or anything. They are waiting for him to die. Ten minutes has passed, the man let out his last breath, and two people from the crowd rushed in and bit a hole on the bag and grabbed a handful of rice and ran. Half of the others followed, and scattered the crowd went. After a while, a businessman showed up and was furious at the scene. He kicked the dead man, flipping over and asked angrily: “What have you done? Did you steal my rice?” After discovering the man is dead the businessman then turned to the crowd “You all know that the rice would cost you money right?””

After he told us the story, my mother and I looked sympathetically into his eyes. The rest of the table still, untouched by his story continued with their lunch. Feeding themselves vigorously as if is their last meal. Suddenly, they looked like the worker in the story, overpowered under the authority of someone else. All three of us knew, he did not die of exhaustion, but died of frustration.

"He is a dead man" a voice came from the crowd. Like us, they had examined him and judged weather he is to stay in the society. I knew from then, that not only my father had killed the Chinese, but the Chinese had killed Chinese, and people had killed people.


He who remains nameless:

He rode his bicycle into the crowded street. Smoke filled his lungs, he could barely breath. Using no hands, he performed his perfect balance. Nothing was in his way, and nothing could be. He fled through the traffic, passing people, bicycles, cars and trucks. Green light, “Out of my way!...Today must be a great day” he thought to himself. Being a young man, he had a chance to change. His body in good shape, fit and had healthy skin; tanned while working in the fields back at home. Just graduated from a community school, he was willing to do anything, he could learn, he could change.

It was his first day to work; work in the city of hope and opportunity. He was eighteen, and had just turned legal to do many things that he hasn’t tried. In his childhood, he would dream of on day working in the big city. Amazed by everything, skyscrapers reaching out high towards the heaven; he has never seen such a thing back at home. Crowded streets, and heavy traffics, just simply took his breath away.

Suddenly, he fell. Fell hard. A bus sled, making a daunting squeak as the driver tries to hit on full break to stop the drifting bus. A thin line of smoke appeared on the scarred pavement behind. His body, along with the bicycle was thrown into the air.

“I can not die here” he said. He thought of his parents, thought of his brothers and sisters that needs to be taken care of. They had nothing back at home. They would look upon the road each day waiting for him to come back, they had nothing.

Before, he dreamed of changing their life style. He finally worked enough to have the money to come to the city, yet, now he lies flat, breathless----almost, in the middle of the road. He didn’t know he body was put into an impossible position, parts of his limbs scattered along the road. There was no feeling of pain, only exhaustion.

Rush hour, traffic stopped, surrounded by crowds of bicyclists and drivers, he reach his hand out, seeking help. No one replied, they watched with a blank face, they looked pale, yet calm. He was alone. There he lied, blood stained his cloth and the road, and it was darkened by the filthy road. Senses went num on him. A voice told him to let go and not to worry. The blood stretched passing the disable and crumbled bike of his.

He died, traffic moved on, people moved on. He was so insignificant comparing to all. No body knew who he is, no body cared, and they went on, continuing their day, to work, date or breakfast.
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