This chapter jumps right back to her childhood in case anyone’s confused (since the prologue was of her currently).
Personal comments in 
Chapter 1: Those First Years
Yi Xiu, how is Xiao Ye?
How is Shinamon san? Is your Sunny Doll still there?
We all miss you very much.
[*Reference to a popular Japanese cartoon called Smart Ikkyu San (Yi Xiu) which was translated to Chinese and broadcasted from 1983-1988 and influenced a whole generation of children in China. ]
1.The Start of My Memories
Where is youth?
Every teenager’s eyes are like a black and white cinema screen.
Courage, impulsiveness, weak heartednees, curiosity, desire, confusion, sadness, disappointment, thinking…
Everything that is a part of the bright colors of youth is staged on that black and white cinema screen.
When they are on stage performing in an uncontrolled abundance, we are ignorant of them, even though they are right inside our eyes.
Because they are too close, close inside our eyes, we are unable to seem them.
Only when they gradually move further away are we able to see clearly. See clearly that everything is perhaps exciting, perhaps there are gains and losses behind the stories that aren’t exciting. However, everything is frozen on film. No matter whether we are smiling or crying, we can only stand far away by the side of time, quietly watching the glimmering moments on the screen gather and disperse, gain then lose.
This is youth. Only when it leaves are we able to see clearly.
[This part is really well written and quite deep so I had a difficult time trying to get the proper translations/meanings through without making it seem too confusing. I think this pretty much says that we are blinded by our feelings and actions as a teen and it’s only once we grow older than we are able to properly view our actions and memories like on a cinema screen. ]
I was born into a very average family that wasn’t rich nor poor. My parent’s level of education wasn’t high or low. In my memories, before the age of five, I have little recollection of them because when the little me was only one year and 5 months old, my little sister Luo Yuan Yuan was born so my parents sent me off to my grandfather [mother’s father].
At my grandfathers’, I was very happy. I was the apple of his eye; a typical ‘honeypot’ (living in comfortable/privileged conditions) child.
Grandpa was the best civil engineer in the area, he could draw circles freehandedly and wrote very beautiful calligraphy. In his later years, he liked to read Jin Yong [famous Wu Xia writer]. To this day, we still have his hand copied version of ‘The Heaven Sword and Light Sabre’, bound into a book like those exquisite ancient novels.
Grandpa was born into an affluent family who were the owners of a large tangerine farm. Because he was born in that era, he had gone through all sorts of hardships but no matter what he went through, he treated it coolly with indifference. The only thing that he wasn’t able to treat indifferently was his divorce with grandma. After their divorce, grandma took mom far away and married another man. This man treated my mom very cruelly so mom had a very misfortunate childhood. The next time mom saw grandpa again, it was 20 years later. At their first meeting, mom had already become cold to the world and completely refused to say the word “dad” , leaving grandpa in tears.
It was grandma who wanted a divorce, so grandpa wasn’t to blame but he still felt remorseful and conscious stricken to my mom. Added to the fact that I was his only grandchild, his doting love for me was beyond anything.
According to my aunt’s recollection, when I was little, I was smug, arrogant and coveted petty advantages. Once, she bought me a pair of shoes. In the morning when she tried to help me put them on, I refused to wear them, saying that the shoes weren’t pretty enough. No matter how she tried, I still wouldn’t wear them, causing her to miss out on her breakfast for the sake of helping me wear the shoes. She grumbled a little and I immediately ran off to tattle to grandpa, wanting him to hit her bottom. Grandpa actually rolled up a newspaper and smacked her bottom twice with it.
Also, no matter who took a photo in the family, I had to be in it or else no one can even think of taking one. I even wanted to be a part of my aunt’s photo with her colleagues. So, in that era where photographs were a serious and uncommon thing, there were many many photographs of me before the age of five. Often, there would be a group of adults with a little kid sandwiched in the middle. They didn’t know whether to laugh or cry whereas I felt proud.
These memories were from my aunt’s recollections as I didn’t remember anything. In my memories, I only remember grandpa taking me fishing. I didn’t like him carrying me and wanted to walk so he walked by my side. In that short distance, I picked flowers and caught locusts. It was normal for the walk to take up to 1 or 2 hours with grandpa accompanying me the entire time. Grandpa also bought me chocolate with alcohol fillings. Because I liked them, he didn’t care about others telling him that it wasn’t right to get children drunk. When I spilt ink over my grandpa’s collection of ancient books, aunt was heartbroken but grandpa only laughed. Early in the morning, he taught me ‘Spring Dawn’ [famous poem]; in the evening he sat in the rocking chair cradling me; rocking to the glow of the sunset.
Under grandpa’s doting care, I was obliviously happy.
At the age of 5, because I had to start primary school, my parents took me back to their side.
I remember when my mom first appeared, I refused to call her “mom”. I only sucked on a lollipop while suspiciously eyeing this woman who came from afar who looked heartbroken. As I loudly screamed, cried and kicked, my mother forcefully brought me on the train to return to my ‘home’.
From then on, my happiness ended and suffering started.
By grandpa’s side, I was a little princess. I had the best things and the most generous love. The entire world revolved around me. However, by my parent’s side, the other girl, my little sister was the actual little princess.
My parents were really busy with work and they gave all their spare time to my little sister. My little sister grew up by my parents side the entire time. She was a good speaker, acted spoilt and knew how to make my parents happy whereas I was a person who wouldn’t say “mom” and “dad” for a long time. We were only two years apart but we were both brought up spoilt so when we were together, we fought over toys and food. I was repeatedly told off by my parents who warned me: “You’re the sister, you have to give in to your little sister.”
Through my parent’s ‘sisters have to live in harmony, the older sister needs to give in to the little sister’ teachings, the funnest toys had to be given to little sister, the most delicious food had to be given to little sister and the prettiest dresses had to be given to little sister. In summary, as long as she wants and fancies it, I had to give it up without a sound.
After countless times of ‘older sister yields to little sister’, I started learning to be obedient. I often hid somewhere to play alone without caring about anything but now, I would voluntarily let my little sister choose the toy first and whatever she didn’t want would be mine. When eating, on the table, without saying a word, I would quickly eat and leave; their laughter and conversations had nothing to do with me.
I turned from liking to chatter to becoming quiet and reserved. I often longed for grandpa. At that time, whenever I felt painful from loneliness, I thought about how when I grew up and could go on the train alone, I would return to grandpa’s side. Only then would I feel like I still had something to look forward to in my life.
The picture that I remember the deepest is of the evening. Mom would be busy in the kitchen while I hid in the corner by the bookcase flicking though ‘Children’s Picture Magazine’. Dad came back from work, when he opened the door, his first words are “Yuan Yuan”.
My little sister would yell “dad” and happily jump into his embrace. He would pick her up, throw her high in the air and then catch her, the two of them laughing happily in the sitting room.
I would hide in the dark, silently, secretly watching them. They would play games, they would tell stories. They would happily laugh and laugh. For an hour, no one would ask where I was. That feeling was as though I was sitting at the furthest end of the universe, it was pitch black all around me as loneliness and desolation fill my entire body. At that time, I perhaps may not have understood what universe was, or the feeling of longing to go out but was too sad to let myself go. However, the image of that child huddling in a corner with her arms tightly wrapped around herself, staring out at them without blinking, longing to hear her parents call out her name was forever engraved into my heart.
Only when dinner was ready and mom had the table ready would they remember to call me to dinner. I would remain hiding by the bookcase, sofa, corner of the room and not come out. I was hurt and I was prideful, mysteriously thinking: why are they only remembering me now? Late, it’s too late! If you had called earlier, I would’ve happily rushed out, but now, I won’t answer! I just won’t answer! I’m not valued! I don’t value you at all!
Mom would open the door of every room, calling me but never found me. They would ask little sister where I went but that stupid little person would only shake her head and sweetly say: “I was playing with my building blocks, I don’t know where she went.”
Because I was little, no matter how much they looked, they couldn’t find me huddled in the corner even though I was in the living room, in front of their eyes. As my parents couldn’t find me, they panicked and had no time to eat. They quickly found the auntie next door to look after my little sister and putting on their coats, ran into the cold and windy winter night to look for me. As for me, I sat in the corner of the living room quietly watching everything unfold.
It wasn’t my intention to create this situation of panic, I just really didn’t want to answer them at the time and afterwards, when the situation grew big, I was scared and didn’t know what to do so I hid myself deeper.
This continued late into the night. Later, when little sister came to pick up one of her building blocks that she had dropped, she found me. This fellow had an excited expression, reporting me in as if she had captured a spy from the enemy’s side.
My father grabbed me, wanting to hit but my mother stopped him, so she could ask me the reason for hiding. I stared at my father’s large hand and rubbing my bottom, I blurted out without even thinking: “I didn’t hear your calls, I was looking at the pictures and fell asleep.”
My very first lie had saved me from being hit.
A month before I turned 6, I started primary school.
At the time, the rules regarding the age for starting school were very strict. You weren’t allowed to start school if you had not turned 7 yet. Not just one year away, you weren’t allowed even if you were a month away from 7. My father used his connections to get me into the local military owned primary school. As the primary school was run by the military troops themselves, admissions were very lenient.
However, before I’d even finished learning pinyin [romanization for Chinese word pronounciations], I fell ill with tuberculosis and had to take leave from school. After recuperating for a year at home, my parents asked me if I wanted to retake Year 1 or move on to Year 2. At the time, the kids would tease anyone who repeated a year. I fought a cold war [with herself] and determinedly told my parents that I wanted to move on to Year 2 with my classmates. So, my parents let me continue on to Year 2.
I was already younger than my classmates and having not finished Year 1, the result was easy to imagine- my grades were very bad. As I was reserved and unsociable, added to the fact that my grades were bad, I wasn’t the type of student that the teacher liked. Therefore, I became even more reserved and unsociable, and my grades continued to stay low.
However, it didn’t really matter because my parents didn’t care about my grades. They wouldn’t scold me because I came last or second to last. They would only say that as long as I was trying, it was fine so I didn’t have much stress in studying. Apart from my annoying little sister who made me jealous and my constrained and lonesome family life, my life was bearable to the extent that I was able to make a good friend- Ge Xiao Fei.
Ge Xiao Fei was number one in the class[referring to exam marks]. She was a single child and really envied me for having a little sister to play with whereas I envied her for being a single child. In middle school, after learning about China’s fundamental policy for family planning in political studies, I even blamed China for not being stricter in enforcing the national policy. [She’s blaming the country for not being stricter on the one child rule as her family has 2 children.]
Ge Xiao Fei really liked to talk whereas I didn’t like to talk. When she was with me, she didn’t have to worry about others cutting in. Other than this, we had one similarity, we both didn’t like to go home. After school, when all the other students had all gone home, we would still be loitering around.
After being together regularly, we gradually became best friends. When I was with her, I would occasionally become as lively as I was with grandpa. We would go to school together and go home together.
When we were together, we would hold hands and she felt like my real sister. Even when I had a candy, I would still save half for her. She was also very good to me, as long as I wanted something, she would rather not have it herself and save it for me; when I wasn’t happy, she would try her hardest to make me laugh; my hand work was very awkward so I was always slower than others in handwork class. She would always first help me complete my work then quickly go and finish her own.
We were like Siamese twins, wanting to stay together all the time.
One day, after school, we held hands and played for a long time, not wanting to separate but the sky was already turning dark. Ge Xiao Fei said that she didn’t want to go home and asked if I could stay with her so I invited her to my house. Seeing me bring a little friend home, my parents treated her very warmly. At night, we slept together on the same bed, head to head. That was my first time not feeling lonely at home. I felt incomparably happy.
The next day after waking up, I found out from my parents that Ge Xiao Fei had not told her parents about sleeping over, causing her family to panic. As there were no telephones back then, her parents had to go house to house to look for her and only got to my house around 2 to 3 am. Dad was very unhappy at Ge Xiao Fei for lying that her mum knew she was coming over but mom didn’t say anything and still cooked us a breakfast feast. Ge Xiao Fei was in low spirits the day after but on the second day, was back to normal.
Because I had Ge Xiao Fei, even though there was darkness in my life, I was still happy. However, life probably felt that I didn’t have enough weight to carry and decided to throw me some more.
In Year 3, because father had to transfer work, I had to leave and move to a new city. I had a tearful farewell with Ge Xiao Fei. She hugged me and cried but I didn’t cry. However when I sat in the car, my tears came gushing out. I didn’t want my parents to find out so I had to tightly hold in my breath as to not make a sound.
Too young to fully understand what parting is, yet already crying because of parting.
In my new school, I met a new maths teacher- Teacher Zhao. From then on, my new painful life was about to begin.
This evil witch caused me think negatively about teachers til this day. Every time I read something about teachers being candles, burning themselves to provide light [knowledge] to the students, I want to laugh. I did have good teachers but many of my teachers were very snobbish. If one of the children’s parents had a high ranking position [usually officers who are highly regarded because they have lots of power] , they would treat the child particularly intimately; if the child’s parents happened to be from the Department of Education, then the teacher would treat them very kind and warmly. Their selfless dedication are sure like candles.
However, if you didn’t have parents who were officers, your family didn’t have money and your grades were bad, then at this time, the teacher will use you as a target to throw her chalk at or sometimes, roll her eyes and use a casual but sarcastic tone of disdain to the question you can’t answer.
Adults have long believed that there are lots of things children don’t understand when actually, we are very sensitive, we all have ‘reputations’, we hate being publicly scolded.
After countless times of becoming red faced, I became more and more scared of this teacher [Teacher Zhang] while she looked down on me more and more. She liked to ask me questions in class and satirize me. My clumsiness, my bad grades, how I can’t speak well, even my unsociable personality made her dissatisfied. To this day, I still remember how she glanced at me and used a worried tone to ask “How come you don’t seem like a child? You’re stupid and foolish, I really don’t know where all the food you ate got digested to.”
There are many times when children care about reputation more than adults because their world is small so all small matters aren’t considered small to them. In society, primary teachers are very common and ordinary. However, in front of all her students, she is almost like a god. Her praise and criticisms, her likes and dislikes will all create a hard to believe butterfly effect.
Everyone in the class was affected by Teacher Zhang’s scorn to me. They started to not want to play with me or go home with me. After a few awkward times, I start to voluntarily alienate myself from them. When they’re playing, I would sit by the flower garden daydreaming.
At home, I was all alone and had to let everything to my little sister. At school, I was also all alone and Teacher Zhang didn’t like me. At home, I’d sit by the corner, silently staring at my dad spoiling my little sister; at school, I’d stand at a distance, silently staring at my classmates playing.
In this world, there are many negative feelings but being alone is the worst.
One day, I found a wuxia novel written by Gu Long [famous Taiwanese writer] on my father’s bookcase. The lead character was the quiet, lonesome type. His feeling of being abandoned by the commoners was like a lightning strike into my small heart, I found my treasure on the bookshelf. After that, I became more quiet, more solitary, hiding into my own imaginary world.