Saturday, October 14, 2006

Shenyang




Shenyang is located north of Beijing and in the area that people refer to it as “dongbei or northeast”. Northeasterners have a reputation for being honest and down to earth. We found this to be absolutely true as people were much friendlier, helpful and kind and we felt a sense of security in knowing you probably won’t get cheated here. The skies are blue and the clouds wispy in Shenyang. This is the city where Ma's childhood was spent. I am trying to match the images of stories she has told me, with what I see, and it is difficult. The city is quite developed and other than the concrete wall and eastern gate, not much remains from 60 years ago. We encouraged her to question a group of elderly gentlemen about the street that her home was on. There is a gate to the area, but upscale condominiums have replaced the single story compounds. She sees the resemblance of her relatives in the faces of these northerners, and delights in our cabdriver, whose ancestors were from the same village outside of Shenyang. "You look just like my brother!" she says. The sterotype of honest and kind personalities of northerners is reinforced more and more as she asks for directions from strangers on streetcorners. These people are definitely a kinder bunch than those in Beijing and Shanghai.

It was such a thrill for her to actually be there and to remember what it looked like during her childhood. It is actually quite amazing that now 60 years later, she can come back and experience this, knowing that at 20, when she left her home, she never imagined she would have spent her entire adult life in America. She was the third daughter in a family of 4 children, her younger brother was the only son-it goes without saying that her life was not highly valued in a Chinese family. As a young adult, she told her older sister that she wanted to go to America-they laughed at her and said, “How are YOU going to go to America?” At 25, when the Communists took over and the US government took their passports and refused to let them leave, she never imagined she would be able to return. Her life has been so different from the sisters that she left behind, and the person she has become is so much more than what she would have been. Amazing, isn’t it, how our lives take turns that dictate who we become.

Upon the recommendation of locals, we feast on the best potstickers I have ever had in my life. Shrimp, pork and fresh chives wrapped in a delicate yet slightly chewy wrapper, burst with a pocket of juice when we bite into them. 8rmb a plate of 20 - amounts to 5cents a piece!

We spent the following day visiting the Imperial palace, the only other palace in China other than the Forbidden City in Beijing. Ma made arrangements with the cab driver who drove us from the airport, coincidentally from her home village, to take us to the town where she was born. The following morning, we rode for an hour on a beautiful highway past fields of cabbage, corn and green onions to a small city named Ximin. She had vivid memories of the train station where as a little girl they would arrive from Shenyang, ride on a wagon cart with big wooden wheels, and go to visit her grandparents. Unfortunately, the train station was rebuilt 5 years ago, but the station master took us upstairs and showed us old photos of the station. The town is still fairly undeveloped and we did not linger.

Ma had a delightful time chatting with the cab driver about the “good old days”. We learned that it is difficult for children of the working class to attend college, which costs $3,000, much more than a parent is able to save in a decade. It is a tough life for middle aged Chinese, where being only children, some couples have 4-6 elderly parents and grandparents to care for. It makes us appreciate the standard and quality of life that we take for granted.

Our stay in Shenyang came to an end and it was a productive and enjoyable trip!

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