On China, family and writing

Location: Hainan
Time: 02:30AM – 05:00AM

How refreshing it is to fly to a country that feels like home yet bewilders you at the same time. I am swallowed up in the population, the ginormous bureaucracy, unknown to billions of people and barred from social media. It is weirdly pleasant, especially after such a publicised and popularised fortnight in another place, to escape into this culture. It means that I don’t get carried away wallowing in the memories of this ‘success’ and that ‘achievement’, swimming in the blue aftermath of adrenaline-filled days, all mopey that it has come to an end. The last thing I want to do is self-indulge and forget about where I am and who I am with.

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I am in mild discomfort, verging on pain, but extremely content because I am at home with my relatives in China. I am very inspired to write, which is great; rarely do I have the joy of so many new sentences flying around my brain that have deep meaning for me. However, they’re a little too rapid for my body. My eyes, hands and concentration are all too lazy right now to do anything apart from eat really yummy food and talk to my relatives. I am so tired I don’t even feel conscious sometimes, and all I want to do is lie down on the bed or sofa or my granny’s lap and close my eyes. I can’t tell if I am suffering from just jet-lag or also muscle exhaustion from the intense period of playing that preceded this trip.


When we eat generous meals, I decelerate – what a great word I didn’t know existed! – even further. All this gluttony makes me heavier and lethargic to the point where all my movements – leaning over the table with my chopsticks, clasping some delicious item, bringing it to my mouth, chewing and ingesting – are playing at half-speed. I look like some helpless, pitiful, smiling sweaty sloth that moves too slowly to ever be a practical or intelligent animal, particularly when placed in a noisy, bustling environment such as a huge dining room in a city like Guangzhou.

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I wish I could just wake up and be more alert to my family, rather than feel this self-pity and overriding desire to sleep. Even though I am staying in this glorious country for six weeks, I cannot bear to let myself waste any precious time when I know everyone here is beyond ecstatic and impatient to see me, spoil me and love me, desperate to make up for the 6 or even 8 years of absence from my life. It is deeply moving and overwhelming to receive such kindness from people who have, if I am honest, not been there, physically. It makes me wonder why I didn’t go back sooner or write to them more often, because it is in fact wonderful and soothing to speak to them. But, how easy is it to forget that they exist when you cannot hold their hands or share a dinner table with them, and when you are completely pre-occupied with figuring out your life.

What I appreciate, which I didn’t before, is that they treat me the same as any other cousin, grandchild or niece, perhaps even more generously, because they feel like they are indebted to me for lost time, yet they don’t even know what I am doing back at home in the UK, with the exception of a few photo updates sent on WeChat from time to time. They are proud of my existence and support it over and above with I choose to do in life, what exams I end up taking and what notes I play.

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My dearest PoPo, grandma on my mother’s side, who has not seen me play since I was probably 11 or 12, looked at my neck, intrigued by its battle scars*. She told me that I should play gently and shouldn’t tired myself out, hurt myself physically or mentally through working too much, and that if something isn’t perfect it doesn’t matter. I don’t know why her words moved me so much that when I write about it now I could almost weep.

I hear this stuff all the time from lots of different people and am slowly learning the philosophy myself. But hearing it from granny, who has always worked so hard all her life, bringing up three kids, doing hard labour back in the 40s-50s, who still continues to help relatives in their poor health, attending to their needs and cooking every meal for them, my sweet granny who has never played an instrument in her life but likes to sing in the kitchen and dance in the courtyard, who has never rehearsed classical music before or played scales, even she knew how to do it better than me and many people actually pursuing it. Oh PoPo, I miss you even when we’re in the same country – where have you been all my life?

It is moments like now where I wish with all my heart that I could be a Chinese Empress, with the power to summon whom I want whenever I want and create new territories and design my own empire. A bit like Walt Disney who grew his own mini-kingdoms in one city, but on an extreme scale that would be politically much more questionable. Imagine I stayed in the UK. I would use lightning to crack the ground, the earth’s fragile mantle and loosen the tectonic plates. With my other cosmic powers I’d play with the gravity of the moon, the planets and anything that affects the oceans and seas, to energise the waves and push the pieces of China, USA, France and Germany to the UK mainland. People would be ready at the coasts with rope and chains made of diamond fibre and spider silk to tie the different countries together hundreds of thousands of times. The weather would probably remain ambiguous and British, but that’s all right; everyone would get used to it eventually. With all my friends and family close to me, I’d never feel incomplete when I celebrated my birthdays and things. Is that all too much to ask?

To my surprise, I can still access WordPress.com in China – what changed since last year?! – and I feel like I can still in some unilateral way keep in touch with friends at home and share my thoughts and feelings with those who would like to hear them.

I admit I was slightly nervous about writing my last post – a public critique of someone/something/some issue – particularly when I had played a significant part in the topic. I don’t really do it. The only times where I have given my personal opinion on specific social issues were when I first started writing here (please don’t go there because they’re embarrassingly bad reads) and when I complained about the heating in my room at school and my Dad got concerned and contacted the staff, which led to me having a private chat about this blog with the Deputy Head (even more embarrassing). That kind of scared me.

Following that, I never really touched upon serious or controversial issues because, well, I didn’t feel like doing it nor feel obliged to do so. (What is nice and unique about a blog and any creative platform is that it is completely up to you how you wish you present it. This is what I always say if someone asks me “What do you write about then?” because I can’t really give a clear answer.) When I chose to make a public statement about some issue, I did so knowing that I might have a different scale of response; a significant spike in page views and some more comments maybe. But I did not at all expect such high traffic upon its immediate publishing and over 1000 views and 800 visitors by the end of the day.

Isn’t that quite scary?! All the more so when you are cut off from social media and you have no idea who is saying what about it and sharing it where. Normally I don’t really care who reads what I write, and social media stats have never persuaded me to change my attitude, style or content. But on this occasion I really did want to know because I was scared that what I said wasn’t valid or was based on tenuous evidence, or was an overreaction to something I believed was important but with which nobody else in fact agreed. It was exciting to know that people were reading it and most probably sharing it in some way; but it was equally quite uncomfortable for me to be blocked from reading comments, replying and discussing it with them.

I compare it to being in a police interrogation room lit by a bulb that makes your eyes ache, with three grey walls and one black glass window that doesn’t allow me to see who is on the other side and hear what they are saying about me or what I did. Meanwhile, I’m exposing a good deal of opinion and experience to my interrogators. How strange it is to know other people exist, to communicate with them, but not get anything in return. It makes me really grateful to have conversations, on- and offline.

Luckily, I had a friend send me over a screenshot that showed me a response so far very positive. I guess all I’d like to say is THANK YOU for reading it, passing it around – whether on purpose or inadvertently by simply clicking ‘Like’ – and leaving your comments, supportive or critical. Sorry if you think I am ignoring your messages and comments. I can’t reply at the moment, except on WordPress itself, so if you want to write me something please don’t hesitate to email me as well.

Here’s to a few more sleepless nights. Thanks jet-lag. I’m going on a mini-road trip at 7:30AM to visit other cities on this little island, including Sanya!


2 thoughts on “On China, family and writing

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