Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chapter 3: On the Port

Kaohsiung: a place where no one had ever heard of before, a place where people had dark sun-kissed skin, a place where the Chinese actually sounded like an entirely foreign language. She lost communication with her husband in the turmoil but had two soldiers accompanying her. Cradled in her arms was the one who ate then slept, woke then ate -- Ying Da.

Mei-jun sized up her surroundings... the streets were packed with disoriented refugees, their faces grim and anxious. This day in May was exceptionally hot but the refugees wore their tattered cotton clothes still. Take it off and indecently expose a bare body, keep it on and endure the insufferable humid weather. A spell of heavy rain suddenly caught the refugees off guard, sending them fleeing for shelter in all directions, only to find that there were no roofs to hide under. Resigned, many sat on the floor and let the rain pour down.

With the army disbanded and husband lost, Mei-jun could no longer claim to be a "military dependent"... all at once no one cared about her anymore. Those two soldiers, sons of village farmers, lost their military status as well. Mei-jun actually never fully understood this major historical turning point, but soon grasped its consequences -- from now on, aside from herself, there was no one else to count on.

Mei-jun fished her pockets and scooped out a well-hidden five ounce piece of gold, heading out to find a place called Lingya Market. There, she began her independent life in an eight square foot - or 2.4 x 2.4 meters - vegetable vendor stall. At night, the two young men slept on the floor while Mei-jun tightly embraced her baby on roof of the stand, sharing one thinly covered blanket.

The next morning before it was light outside, Mei-jun instructed the two young men to buy several large watermelons, cut them into thin slices, place them out on a wooden board, and peddle them at the harbor. As fleets of boats flowed towards the port, evacuated military personnel and refugees arrived like water spilling over a levy. Her purpose in selling watermelon on this blisteringly hot day was two-fold: she could scrape some money together, but more importantly she could search for family -- if her husband was even still alive, he would most likely one day appear at that port.

Mei-jun's quickly expanded her little street stand. This daughter of Chun'an coolly observed her surroundings and realized that refugees were rebuilding their lives, starting with houses. They needed bamboo, nails, hammers, string, and other types of building materials. From that, Mei-jun earned a bit of money. She then noticed that the majority refugees were from Shandong, and quickly stocked up her store with sacks and sacks of rice noodles. Southern accents and Northern tones filled the city air, but the refugees knew that not only could find everything that they needed at Mei-jun's shop, but the owner also spoke Mandarin, was generous, warm-hearted, and kind-spirited.

Mei-jun shed her cheongsam and began to only wear loosely-fitted frocks, providing for her child and accepting the burden of hard labor.

However, the lively Mei-jun also embraced periods of quiet solitude. After parking her truck at the entrance of a large warehouse, she rode a bicycle that was reserved to deliver goods and head towards the harbor alone. Military ships slowly docked and slowly departed... waves of people flowed into the port, waves of people dispersed. The sounds of whistles resonated and lingered in the air, curling in the wind.

A policeman in uniform patroled by the entrance of a large warehouse, glimpsed upon the delicate silhouette of a young mainland woman, and could not resist to take one more peek.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really impressed with the quality of your translations!


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