Dyke Cousin: Part 4

I originally wrote this as a journal entry and I decided to leave it that way. It was written on the first trip to Guo Jian’s hometown in Shandong province that directly followed our wedding celebration (so, early in 2010). It is another update in the saga that surrounds my dyke cousin (by marriage) whom I have written about before in “part 3” and “parts 1&2.” Feel free to catch up on those before reading this one!

 

I watched the movie Creation and was really moved by a scene where the main little girl character tells her younger sister that she mustn’t be upset about the fox that just captured the rabbit and killed it. She says, “It has to happen. It’s the balance of things.”

Made me think about balance, yet again.

Today, as I walked to the post office with Guo Jian’s cousin, Wang Yin, huddled together under a shared umbrella in the light rain, I finally had a chance to ask her about her girlfriend. She answered freely about what her girlfriend studies and how long they’ve been together and the fact that her girlfriend is really tall and was a basketball player.

Effectively, she came out to me.

We were interrupted, though, by Guo Jian’s father who tracked us down in the car and offered to drive us.

The moment of freedom to speak to his gay cousin, and now my cousin by marriage, was brief but poignant. Maybe that’s all the balance it needed—the balance between the reality of oppression here and her forced silence, the balance between the reality of my open history and my forced questioning as the foreigner (as she is very unlikely to volunteer information)—both balances in balance with each other, just for an instant. Perhaps that’s all the balance that instant could hold.

His Father came into the post office with us. Everyone’s always so worried that I won’t be able to make my way in their language. The support is at once sweet and annoying. More balance.

Unlike in Beijing, I discovered that they wouldn’t let me send CD’s in padded “government approved” envelopes. It’s against “regulations,” the clerk said, tight-lipped. How they can have different regulations between provinces for a national postal service, I don’t know, but like my friend in Beijing always says to me: “If we lived in a place that made sense, it wouldn’t be China.” Instead, they offered small boxes for my CD’s—a solution I knew would be much more expensive.

Here in China, everything you post is considered potentially suspicious, especially that which is bound for the outside world, (read: foreign countries). You have to remember not to seal anything before going to the post office because the seal will be broken in their inspections. (I found that out the hard way with pre-wrapped Christmas presents one year!) After the postal staff have personally handled everything, turning your items around in their hands as though they’re snow globes, and asked you a myriad of personal questions about the nature of the contents, they can then decide if it meets their shipping standards. All that lies between the post office clerk and the customer is a benign countertop, yet it is laden with invisible borderguard-style, power-tripping, excessively authoritative control.

(Was that too wordy? Ha!)

In other words, Chinese post offices are at once violating and disempowering—enough to knock anyone off balance.

What was I to do but concede to the boxes? I also had many forms to fill out and when I returned them to the employee, she thrust them back at me. I had checked boxes rather than “x’ed” them (and I was reprimanded) and then I had forgotten to sign my name and date each customs form. I joked then, as I was starting to feel completely under a microscope flanked by my father-in-law and cousin-in-law on both sides. Luckily there wasn’t a queue behind us.

I said, “Oh, sorry about that. Really, I should attend postal service school. I really know nothing. I’m just a foreigner.” Wang Yin snickered at this but the attendant gave it no attention whatsoever. I was grateful for her response. It lightened the tension in my shoulders for an instant. More balance.

That is, until I realized that I didn’t have enough money. It was 150RMB for each box. That’s crazy! Keep in mind that each box only held two CD’s. That’s $25CAD for each box, more than the value of its contents!  What’s more, I only had 250 yuan in my wallet. I asked my father-in-law if I could borrow a bit of money. He hastily grabbed his wallet from his pants and said, “我来吧 wo lai ba” (No, let me) and wouldn’t allow me to pay even the majority of it. I contested, saying I would certainly pay him back. He refused. Even out in the parking lot I said, “Really, I know we’re one family, but I just have to pay you back. This is a business issue, not a personal one.” “No need, no need,” he said. And then he patted my shoulder affectionately by way of dismissal.

Another layer of disempowerment overcame me like a wave. Not only had the post office reminded me that this is a communist country, but I had also inadvertently put my father-in-law in a position where he felt he needed to cover me financially and now he wasn’t willing to let me pay him back! I didn’t want to begrudge his generosity, but I felt strange to accept his gift—wrong about it.

I sat in the car silently until we had almost arrived home. Having had a few minutes to calm down and think about my words, I thanked my father-in-law for the lift, first and foremost, and he cut me off to tell me not to be so polite because “I’m family now.” I plowed on, nonetheless, and tried to explain that it was important for me to pay him back because it was better business for my company. He still waved me off like a buzzing fly. Wang Yin sat silent in the backseat.

I couldn’t tell if I was being rude to insist on paying him back or if it would be rude not to continue to insist.

Now where’s the balance in all this?

Back at their home, I told Guo Jian about the ridiculous post office experience and he hugged me and I almost cried. I then told him that his father had paid for it and I didn’t know how to handle it. He told me to forget it and not to pay my father-in-law back, that it was really no problem and that Chinese fathers are supposed to do things like that. He said it would make my father-in-law more uncomfortable if I forced him to accept my reimbursement.

I was still confused. Whose culture do I honour here? I already felt belittled at the post office and so letting my culture slip out of the equation altogether by not asserting my principles seemed the equivalent to losing myself entirely. But I wouldn’t have any money until I found a bank machine anyway, so I was stuck having to accept it. The longer I waited, too, the more awkward paying him back would seem to everyone. I felt between a rock and a hard place. Trapped.

I am the rabbit and China is the fox.  Maybe I am meant to be eaten? Is it the nature of things here?

And in all of this, I realized, I still hadn’t t had the chance to personally come out to Wang Yin. The opportunity was just a few sentences away, but my parade was rained on, so-to-speak. Vehicular generosity came to our rescue just a few moments too soon, not unlike financial generosity came to my rescue when I was just a few RMB too short. Sigh. It was a day of defeat in the attempt at self-sufficiency in China.

So, now, in the throws of self-pity, I am calling on the balance of my internal yin yang, aka, my sense of rationale. It is responding by telling me that being  “out” in this wild and unpredictable situation called China is exactly what keeps me alive. I am out. I’ll always be out because I am myself, period. My history is not a secret—to Wang Yin or anyone else, (as I learned just before the wedding)—whether I say it out loud or not. I will survive this. I will survive China. My SELF is only as lost as I think it to be. Right. I must remember that. It won’t get lost because I can’t be lost—not to myself.

Something just flattened out in my heart, like a crease in one’s shirt padded down by a caring hand.

Invisible balance restored.

 

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