Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Evening Hours

I have to face it: sometimes children are mistreated in China. As much as I’d like to paint the picture of a society that loves and treasures and protects its children, there is evidence to the contrary. Like this poor child who, most likely on the way home from school is reduced to shrieking agony and driven by vicious tongue lashings along the way.

Don’t get me wrong. When I reported earlier that the Chinese love their children I was not misguiding you. For the most part, there is love, peace and harmony. Children are raised in a stable, happy environment. But not every child. Not our community howler. Or the child I saw while out just a few days ago who apparently had so angered his grandfather that the senior turned in disgust and stalked away. As the toddler – he could not have been more than 3 or 4 years old – entreated “Ye-Ye! Ye-Ye!” (Grandfather! Grandfather!), hands outstretched, beseeching and trying his best to catch up, several times the man turned, his face a mask of disgust and rage, and shooed the child away. I felt like hitting the old coot and scooping up the little boy.

Although there is a tendency to brusqueness throughout Chinese culture that trickles down to parent/child relationships, there are plenty of parents who exhibit tenderness. Sam and Penny are great examples, as are Chris and Julia, Lea and Long Ge and most everyone I know and see.

The truth is, domestic violence is a real problem in China. The subject exploded onto the global stage a few months back, when an American woman married to a Chinese man broke the barriers of silence by reporting, in depth, her tale of humiliation, ridicule and physical attacks. She is not the first, or the only woman to be abused. All over China, it seems women are the catch-all victims of their husband’s ire, ill temper and frustration. Especially in smaller villages, where women have less status and fewer resources than in the cities.  

While walking through the OTW community one day I personally witnessed one woman striking back. The man was walking away from her. She ran after him, clad in pink quilted jammies depicting the ever adorable Hello Kitty motif, ponytailed hair askew and face contorted and bathed in tears, she seethed at him. Now only an arm’s length behind him, her blow landed between his shoulder blades. He neither slowed nor responded.

Just last week another woman on the bus tearfully recounted. Not sure what her deal was but I clearly picked up the word ‘husband’. I guess she was describing some marital injustice, apparently so grave as to warrant crying in public. The women around her murmured but offered no physical comfort like we in the West would: a hug, a sympathetic pat on the arm or even a proffered handkerchief.

Traditional response to such exhibits: gawk. Many times I’ve wondered what was at the center of this or that cluster of people. I was disturbed to find it was a fighting couple. The police tend to not get involved. Socially, domestic violence is still considered a ‘hush crime’. You don’t talk about it, you don’t report it and no one does anything about it. Instances of reported domestic violence are so new that there are no statistics. Perhaps none would be compiled. To track this phenomenon would be to admit it exists. Does China need or want another social ill ascribed to its reputation of poor human rights observance? I don’t think so. In China as in America some 50-odd years ago, domestic violence is a source of shame. Most women and certainly no children would want to bear the indignity of authoring a police report.   

There have been instances of child abuse so dramatic that they are reported in the national news. As with spousal abuse the trend, now seen in light of ‘abuse’ rather than plain domestic management, has no real statistics. But there is a growing awareness.  

I should have set my rose colored glasses aside a long time ago. Many times I’ve reached out to affectionately pat one of my students and he or she flinches, as though readying for a blow. Not a normal reaction when one is raised in a household filled with peace, harmony and love. My Sandy, from the Lil’Uns School is an angry little girl. She loves her mother but feels compelled to act out in order to receive attention. She loved working with me because I gave plenty of hugs and smiles and gentle touches. Upon arrival to class she would literally launch herself at me. Every dance we danced and every song we sang in the course of our lesson she had to stand next to me, holding my hand. She even fought the other little girls and pushed them away if they threatened to interpose themselves between her and me. I miss Sandy. I hope she is well. More so, I hope she finds happiness.  

8PM: another lull, punctuated by the gentle murmur of conversation as the seniors from the OTW community return to their side of the wall after their nightly constitution. Sometimes laughter from happy children. Sometimes more animated conversation as couples or groups of friends amble past. During this time, strange noises in my building. Things being dropped, doors slamming, windows being either thrown open to welcome the night air, or closed against its chill. Visitors will sometimes call on one or the other of my neighbors. From those apartments come a blare of TV and sometimes a gleeful shout. Safe within my walls I imagine a friendly card game, a shot of Bai Jiu shared or just a group of people watching a soccer match on TV. Parking lots and roofs of cars are awash in fluorescent lighting cast down from the undressed windows of occupied apartments. From the back of the housing development, where the pond is, music ricochets. Now that the weather is warmer, the women again gather to dance for fitness.    

I get a lot of writing done during this time. Surfing the internet is once more impossible. Everyone is online; connections are slow. From several open windows I can hear the chirping of instant messaging via QQ. Somewhere in the building someone is showering. I can hear pipes whistling and water going down the drain.

11PM: most of the community is bedded down. Now come the drunks. They shout, they rage, they argue, they rev car engines and peel out. Sometimes fighting breaks out. One night someone struck someone else’s vehicle. It was deliberate. I could hear the engine revving, tires squealing and then peeling as the clutch was released. A second later, the dull clank of one car hitting another. Sounds of backing up trump angry shouts. Another squeal, another thunk. And then, the whine of an engine being driven too fast in reverse. Finally, speeding out of the complex. Somewhere, a woman sobs.   

I try to not pay attention to these noises. I do remain vigilant. Just because I’m not a major player in this community, I could still become the object of someone’s resentment. I live here rent free, utility free, everything free, and alone. All other occupants had to pay a pretty penny for their bit of real estate. One day I might become a target. I’m not saying I live in fear, but I have developed a new appreciation for the bars on my windows.

Just outside my balcony a man, by all appearances drunk, weaves his way though the parking lot and pauses to regurgitate. I’m not worried. The early morning clean up crew will hose down and sweep up the detritus of tonight’s revelry. I can finally get online without having pages time out. Now’s the time I answer emails. And then I play my 2 crossword puzzles, a game of scrabble and maybe a Word Find. Love those word games! Love to keep the mind sharp!   

1AM: finally, all is quiet. The campus police ride through in their battery powered golf cart, the roof rack strobing red, then blue. Again the only sound is the grind and thump of distant construction machinery. Occasionally there will be someone coming home, even at this late hour. It is so quiet I can hear a crepe soled footfall, the flick of a lighter or the snick of a door latch. This is the time I choose to take out my trash, particularly if I have a full bag of recyclable materials. The trash picking seniors tend to get an early start and I like to have things ready for them. This is the time I enjoy my slice of night air. Sometimes I’m actually surprised to see stars and the moon.

I look around this community that for so long I was sole inhabitant of. I remember the eerie feeling of living in a ghost town. Buildings only half finished, gaping openings where one day windows and doors would be installed. Construction debris everywhere. Plots of dirt devoid of greenery. Now trees are in bloom, bushes and shrubs boast foliage, and there is actual grass growing from what had been desultory looking sod when first laid.

Several balconies house plastic tubs. More than one clothes rack sport garments hung out to dry. From the 5th floor a light still glimmers: a night owl like me, churning away. Windows, now filled with glass reflecting the night’s light sternly cast judgment down. “What have you humans created?” “What have you wrought this time?” they seem to say, from on high.

Indeed. What is this microcosm all about?          

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