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Failing to be free

By teamkrejados (blog.chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2014-12-04 17:37

Today I had a pleasant visit with a former student, Susan. She's had her trials but now she is doing well and is in love! It had been a long time since we'd seen one another and we had a lot of catching up to do. I was happy to make the trip into town.

On the way I stopped at a blood donation center. The first year I was here I tried to donate but left the center disappointed because of the language barrier. his time around I thought I might have to struggle a bit to understand all the questions, but was greeted pleasantly – in English - by a lovely attendant who presented me with the anticipated questionnaire, also in English! And then I was told I would need my doctor's certification that my thyroid levels were in range before I could donate. I walked away encouraged that soon, I could be helping people get well with my healthy blood.

While waiting for my tardy young friend, I met a young man name Lawrence, new to Wuhan. Initially taken aback at being hailed by another foreigner, a rare occurrence here, we engaged in lively conversation and exchanged contact details. Soon he hopped back on his bike and rode away, into the blue-skied, delicious day.

Finally: a text message. Susan was here and wondered where I was. She described herself: “I have sunglasses on and a black jacket”. That could have been any of the 20 or so Chinese in my sights who had black jackets on! That little joke aside, our reunion was joyful and our embrace heartfelt.

Susan comes from a traditional family. Her parents are both social success stories: mother working in the legal system, step-father a well positioned government official and father a prominent business man. They all felt their daughter was a failure, first for achieving a score on the National College Entrance Exam that would only permit admittance to a third tier university (our school), and then for resisting their offer to pull strings for a transfer to a better university.

That came to naught anyway because around the time her government-employed mother and step-father intended to ply the university president with gifts to guarantee Susan's admittance, China launched its intensive crackdown on graft and favor-buying.

Immediately after graduation (from our school, much to her parents' chagrin), they forcefully persuaded her to return to her home in Suizhou. Susan had every intention of making her way in Wuhan. She has never felt she was too good to do what would be considered unsuitable work for a college graduate: clerking, cashiering and/or waitressing. She never got to try. Her parents cleaned out her dorm room while she was out and held her possessions hostage until she capitulated. Enraged, but given no choice, she went home with them.

That is the root of Susan's past problems: stifling parents that left her absolutely no room to thrive or make decisions for herself. Her mother controlled every single aspect of her life, even sending her back to campus after winter break with a case of super sweet apple juice and the order to drink one bottle every day for good health. That I know of, Susan drank one bottle (and gave me one), and then never touched them again. She later confided that, after a particularly infuriating conversation with her mother, she smashed every single one of those glass bottles.

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