Jalin’s Auntie: Strong Women of China

 
         Every weekend seemed to be booked solid until Christmas:  Visitor from the Methodist Board coming, Halloween Party night, speech contest elimination round 2,  teacher’s meeting, judging city-wide English speech contest, Amity regional conference, Fulbright scholars 1-week visit . . . .

           Whatever was I going to do without butter for Christmas baking?  The only place to get it is in Chengdu and there just didn’t seem to be any time open to get there except this weekend.
           So on a last-minute decision, Dog and I loaded ourselves onto a bus for the capital city Thursday night.   Here we are, back in the same 5th floor hotel room we had several weeks ago, once again enjoying cooler temperatures than Luzhou and a nostalgic return to our old neighborhood.
          
Convenience Store for Rent
 
          After dropping off everything at the hotel, LF and I immediately took a walk around the corner to visit the Yangs, Jalin’s mom and dad. 
          Jalin (now in her last year of junior high) was still not home.  She was at school until 7 p.m.  Her schedule this year is a loaded one as she and her classmates prepare for high school entrance exams next June.  She has classes 7 days a week, 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  My trips to Chengdu on weekends will give me only glimpses of Jalin in the evening, during dinnertime with her family and before her homework.  Poor girl!  I do feel for her.
          Sitting in the Yang shop which faces the street, Little Flower perched on my lap, I enjoyed chatting with Jalin’s parents.  A sign posted outside now has their business up for rent.  The two have decided it’s too tiring to run such a business for so little money.  They open at 10 a.m. and close at 2 a.m. due to the red light district traffic during the wee morning hours.  After two years of this, and a profit of about 1,000 yuan ($140) a month, it just didn’t seem worth it.
          They’ve had only one interested couple.  The prospective renters also wanted the back room of their apartment so they could sleep there or store items while running the shop.  No one had a problem with that.  As the apartment is fairly small already, Jalin and her mom made plans to share a bed and her dad would take the couch in the living room.
         But the hoped-for rental didn’t pan out.  The couple hasn’t contacted them  again after two weeks so they’re still waiting and hoping.
         I do wonder about their next livelyhood, though.  Jalin’s parents have very little education.  Her father (from a family of 6, his 3 brothers and two sisters) only has a junior high school education.  Her mother ( a family of 3 daughters) has only a 6th grade education.  When I asked Jalin what other jobs they considered doing, or could do, she had no idea. 
         In the meantime, as always, her aunt (the mother’s older sister) is supporting them from America with her salary working in NYC’s Chinatown.  She does nails, shoulder massages and make-up among Chinese clientele.   She has already paid for the Yang’s  apartment, the shop set-up and supplies, Jalin’s schooling, medicines for Jalin’s mother’s diabetes and other necessities.
 
Auntie’s Mystery Life
 
        Jalin’s American auntie has always remained somewhat of a mystery to me as I could never quite get the story straight on her family life.  During my last visit, I finally got the lowdown, and it’s an interesting one. 
        The older brother of Jalin is actually not her brother at all.   It’s her U.S. aunt’s son from her first marriage here in China.  With no income after the divorce, and her previous husband not at all in the picture, 8 years ago the aunt managed to get herself to America by arranging a marriage to a Chinese man in NYC’s Chinatown. Her son, at the time 15 years old, went to live with the Yangs during his high school years, thus being called "the brother".   In many ways, he is much like a brother rather than just a distant cousin because of his time spent with the Yangs. 
           Auntie sent money back to help support the entire family after getting her Chinatown job.  However, there seems to be only one income as the Chinese US husband has disappeared from the picture entirely.  Auntie is sharing a New York flat with 2 other Chinese women from Sichuan with no mention of the husband.  At least, that’s what she told me last year upon her visit back to Chengdu after 7 years of being gone. 
             After high school graduation, her son went on to attend the prestigious Police College in my city, Luzhou.  I always thought he graduated from there after 4 years but decided not to be in law enforcement.  Recently, I learned he dropped out after a year as it was too difficult and didn’t suit his tastes. 
           What does he do now?  Well, basically, he lives a very cushy life living off his mom.  He has a lovely apartment, a car and no job.  He has a lot of friends he hangs out with day and night, not to mention quite a few girlfriends (so Jalin reports).  They go on trips, flying across country to places like Kunming or Guangzhou for siteseeing.  He also drives his buddies to nearby scenic spots for entertainment.   His hope is to eventually join his mom in America, maybe driving a taxi, but it’s extremely difficult to get the visa.  Auntie’s work visa took 7 years.  That’s why she was not able to return to China for so long.
           Meanwhile, here is Jalin who is extremely bright, works very hard in school and wants so much to be educated in America.    When I think of all that money used on the playboy "brother", and all he could accomplish if he’d just put his mind to it, it seems almost a waste. 
 
The Strong Women of China
 
           For me, it’s a fascinating tale of ingenuity and bravery on the part of this Sichuan woman. 
           Here is alone, deserted Auntie. 
           She spoke no English, had no education beyond junior high, was a very provincial woman with little knowledge of the outside world and she was left with a son to raise and no husband to support the two of them.  As the oldest in her family, she also felt a need to help her two younger sisters so she managed to get herself to America for not only a better way of life but a means of completely supporting her sibling sister and her son.  
         The amount of courage and determination it must have taken to do this is unbelievable.  For women in China, I think she presents quite a strong picture of the sacrifices poor, single mothers make in this country when the husbands disappear on them.  
         It’s quite an amazing story although I’m sure there are many more like hers all across China.  I just never hear about them because I’m not privy to that information.  The best I can do is to include her in this blog entry for others to read and think about for today.
 
        Until next time, here’s wishing you "Ping An!" (peace) for your weekend.
         
       

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 18 years as an English language teacher. 13 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my second year in Guangxi Province at the 3-year college, Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. The college is located in smalltown longzhou, 1 hour from the Vietnam border.
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