Dew Drops

The Day I Peed My Pants

When I started school in grade one, I was three years younger than other kids in the class.  I began earlier because my cousin reached school age. I would not have it that she got all those new pencils in that shiny pencil case while I would be left home with the same old toys.  I threw a tantrum.  My matriarch grandmother ordered my uncle, who happened to be the principal of the school, to break the age rule and let me sit in the back of the same classroom as my cousin.

On the first day of school, I carried across my shoulder my new school bag that my big aunt had sewn for me.  She even embroidered a flying seagull on it.  I wore a pretty necklace that my younger aunt knitted with colourful plastic strings.  At the bottom of the necklace hang a little pocket as a pendant knitted with the same plastic strings and it held a boiled egg in it. That was my school snack that my Granny had prepared. I carried a bamboo mat on my back, like people carrying a yoga mat today. My uncle had weaved that mat.  All students brought a mat to lay it down on the floor of the classroom after lunch time and have a nap.

During the class, I played with my new toys: brand new pencils, a pencil sharpener and a fragrant eraser.  I got a metal pencil case with interesting pictures on it.  On the left there was a portrait of Chairman Mao wearing an army hat with a red star on it.  Golden rays beamed from his head as if he was the sun.   On the right there painted three happy people shoulder to shoulder: A worker holding up a hammer, a farmer with a scythe and a soldier with a rifle.

When the recess bell rang, kids ran to the big water jars outside the classrooms. They were made of thick ceramic and were as tall as half a kid. Kids took turns to scoop water with ladles made of bamboo and drink from them. Then we went to play balls and jump ropes in the schoolyard.

I asked for the washroom. Somebody pointed to a hut on the far side of the schoolyard.  I ran over and entered.  There were two rows of wooden seats on each side, one taller than the other.  Actually, it was a long wooden bench against each of the two walls, with several round holes on the bench spaced between them, each hole the size of a pair of buttocks.  Underneath the bench was one large pool of human waste.  The pool was dug down below the ground and there was perhaps a meter or two between the surface of the pool and the bench seats. You could hear the splashes of the droppings; you could see brown floats in the yellow liquid if you looked down the hole.

At my age, I was still using an enamel potty at home, while adults used a wooden bucket placed inside a beautifully carved and painted wooden box as a toilet. I had not used an outhouse. Desperate by the urge of my pee, I tried to sit on one of the holes on the lower bench, but I glimpsed a white maggot climbing up the wall. I jumped away and tried the other bench, but I wasn’t tall enough to reach it with my bum.  I stood in the middle and bent over to hold back my urge. As the loud bell rang calling kids back to classrooms, it felt as if somebody pulled a cord and a hot stream rushed down my legs.  One of the kids ran out of the washroom to the schoolyard yelling: “Teacher! Teacher! She peed her pants!”


The Most Embarrassing Moment in my Life

I was in grade four.  The Cultural Revolution in China was in full blast and it became common practice to denounce a colleague, a friend or even a family member to the authorities for wrongdoing.

I was playing with my best friend in the park when we found a ten-cent bill on the ground.  We naturally agreed that we would hand it in to our home-room teacher Monday morning.  I carefully put it in my pocket and we continued playing.  After my friend left, I felt that the money started to burn a hole in my pocket.  Finally, I could no longer resist the temptation.  I ran to the candy store.  I treated myself some caramel squares and sweet dry olives.  I then spent the rest on a bunch of rubber bands to make a bouncy rope to tie around a tree and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon skipping the rope while singing a sweet rhyme: “Birdie, birdie, jumping around……”

Monday came.  My best friend was waiting for me at the gate of the school and expecting the glorious moment of handing in the money to the teacher.  We would certainly get some praise from the teacher, perhaps even in front of the whole class.  I walked up to my best friend with my head lowered and murmured: “I spent it.”  She ran to the teacher’s office.

A teacher’s note came to my father on that day.  He read it with a very stern face.  He reached for his wallet, put a ten-cent bill in the envelope and handed it to me: “You will give this envelope to your teacher tomorrow together with a self-criticizing essay.” That night, I wrote the essay which started like this: “I spent ten cents that did not belong to me, because I have not studied well Chairman Mao’s Thoughts…”

The next morning, I handed in the envelope and the well-folded paper of my essay to the teacher.  The teacher read my note and told me to keep it because she was going to ask me to read it in front of the whole class.  The few minutes before the bell rang felt like eternal as I was burning in the hell waiting for the moment.  After the bell rang, the teacher walked in the classroom and began: “Today we have an important moment to share before we start the class…”  There I was, with my little legs shaking, standing in front of the classroom facing the whole class of fifty kids.  They all turned very quiet.  Even the noisiest kids shut their mouth for the moment.  I unfolded my paper and started reading my self-criticism.  My voice was trembling.  My face was unbearably hot.  I thought my legs would give in and collapse before I could finish my reading, but they didn’t.  They held me up through the most embarrassing moment in my life.

My best friend has remained my best friend all these years.  I always remember how intensely embarrassing that public moment was, but I don’t remember resenting her at all, then or ever.

Dew Drops

A Good Deal to Marry a Butcher

I grew up in China in the seventies. My family ate meat on Sundays. The butcher’s big stump of cutting board was in the back of the market after you walked through little piles of dirty potatoes covered with soil and bok choy with leaves perforated by worms. There was always a line-up in front of the butcher, who was hacking a pork with his heavy knife. You just gave the butcher your ration coupon, and he knew how many grams of meat to cut for you. If you were lucky, you arrived at the time when the butcher reached a pork’s leg. If you were not lucky, you got in front when the butcher was dispensing a pork belly. There was no privilege to pick which part of the pig you wanted. The butcher tried his best to ensure that all buyers took home a mix of skin, fat and lean meat. However, a slight angling of the knife when cutting the meat could make a big difference in how much lean meat you got.

My father used to say: “It would be a good deal to marry our daughter to a butcher, so the family can always eat good meat. “

We ate chicken once a year. My mother would buy a live hen weeks before the Chinese New Year to make sure we had a chicken for the festivity. My father would circle ropes around the legs of our little table in the kitchen to make a chicken coop underneath it. It was the children’s job to feed the hen and fatten it before the slaughter. The kitchen would smell of chicken droppings before the New Year.

On the New Year’s Eve, my mother would boil a big pot of water, sharpen the knife, grab the hen’s wings and neck with one hand and slid the sharp knife through its neck with her other hand. She would hold the hen upside down to drain its blood in a bowl, tuck its head under its wing and let it cool down in a corner.   Sometimes the corpse still twitched a little. Then Mom would throw the chicken in the hot water and start plucking the feather. The big feathers were easy to pull out. The fine hair all over the body was a piece of work. My mother would give me a pair of tweezers and I would have to spend an hour or two before seeing the skin smooth and hairless. Then my mother would cut the chicken open. All insides of the chicken were edible and to be made into different dishes after much washing, chopping and salting. My mother let me pick the best feathers to make shuttlecocks to play with.

Years later, I left China to study abroad. The first time I walked into a supermarket, I was mesmerized by the abundance, the variety, the impeccably organized display and the gleaming cleanliness. That night I wrote to my parents: “Mom, you won’t believe me. Here you don’t have to kill a chicken and gut it! Everything has been done for you. Even more, you can just buy chicken breast or thighs! And pork meat! You can just buy pork chops, four or six of them, all lean and cut the same size, packed up neatly in a box, ready for the frying pan! Oh Mom, I wish you were here to see it! And Dad, I don’t have to marry a butcher to eat good meat!”











我弟弟经常在比赛前喂蛐蛐红辣椒。 他说蛐蛐吃了辣的赛起来更凶。他和邻居的孩子们蹲在门口,头碰头地在蛐蛐罐周围围成一圈。屁股上有两根刺的是雄蛐蛐,三根刺的是雌蛐蛐。一般是雄蛐蛐爱斗,可有时雌蛐蛐给惹火了会跟你没完没了。







晚上过了九点让妈妈赶上床睡觉。自家的灯灭了,邻居的灯也灭了,一片宁静。那时候没有电视冰箱空调,夏夜里能听到蟋蟀的声音。“嘀……嘀……嘀……嘀……”,那是雄蛐蛐;“嘀嘀炯……嘀嘀炯……”, 那是雌蛐蛐。一会儿,火车来了,从几千米远的横河公园对面的铁轨上一路传过来,“呜呜呜……,胡扯扯,胡扯扯,胡扯扯,胡扯扯,胡扯扯,胡扯扯,胡扯扯……”,又渐渐消失远处。孩子的想象力就跟着那火车声一溜烟驰往遥远的梦乡去了……