In the near future I’m hoping to expand the number of guest posts and book review/suggestions on this blog to try to help you find more China related content. My reason for this is that China is a huge country, and so we need more voices to get all of the stories.
This weekend I received a short story called “Six-Peace Restaurant”, which was written by Yaxue Cao (available digitally on Amazon for just $2.99). The 7,000 word story first appeared in “Boulevard” magazine in 2007, but it still feels very current.
The story focuses on a young Chinese woman returning to Beijing after living in the US for 6 years. The questions people ask her are ones I have heard dozens of times since moving to China. Questions like, “Isn’t life more comfortable in the US?” are hard to answer without hours of explanation and, the main character struggles with how to answer simply without lying.
Yaxue also plays with some of the quirky bits of every day life in China, like that the owner of Six-Peace restaurant has a poster of Marilyn Monroe in his kitchen, or that idea’s like “social ethics” are can be boiled down to picking up litter and not spitting.
The real meat of the story though is the way it explores tensions and problems laying just behind the veneer of the happy Chinese life in Beijing that most foreigners never see on their short trips to China. At one point the main character see a migrant worker get sworn off the mini-bus for sitting in the wrong seat. This kind of contempt held for farmers is widespread in China, but is not something openly discussed. I’m confident that my co-workers would even deny that it could happen.
I think this story accomplishes a lot in under 20 pages. I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and was left wanting her to continue the character’s tale. Yaxue Cao has a great voice and engaging style.
If you have any questions for the author, she will be personally replying to your questions about the story below.
I’d love to read this story but I don’t have a Kindle. How do I access it non digitally?
Thank you, 美丽，for your interest in the story. I am a luddite as far as technology is concerned, but I will find out and let you know as soon as I can.
Thank you, Tom, for your thoughtful review.
美丽，you can download a free Kindle app for PC from Amazon.com:
Thank you Yaxue, I will have a go at this as I really want to read your story. I was walking in Wangfujing with a Chinese friend and I noticed her “faux” fear and not so “faux” disgust when some migrant workers walked by. She told me that she felt sorry for her father, a Government Official, “because the peasants shout at him”. I did not reply. I like stories which show honest relationships, not idealised ones. I enjoyed reading “Socialism is Great!” by Zhang Lijia. I met the author at the Beijing Bookworm and told her how much I appreciated her honesty in relating her less than perfect family relationships. Family is so revered in China but I think that family problems exist there just as much as in the West.
Yaxue: I always enjoy reading your comments and observations on posts here, so I’m very excited to purchase your story for my Kindle.
Thank you 美丽 and NiubiCowboy for being my first two “customers”! I hope you won’t feel to have wasted your time after you read it. For me, it is a profound gift that people take their time to read what I write, and out of gratitude and respect, I tell myself to either write something good or stop wasting people’s time and, in this case, money too.
On a lighter note, my husband commented today, “So you have gone from a luddite to a literary enterpreneur overnight?”
I didn’t feel as if I wasted my time at all! It was such an engaging short story and, after having read it, I’m definitely going to recommend it to friends and family. You’re a wonderful writer and I can’t wait to read more from you in the future.
I hope you don’t mind, but I have a few follow-up questions. Since I’m guessing the protagonist is based on your own experiences and the experiences of those you know, could you offer any insight into the disconnect she continues to experience as a stranger in a strange land? Would spending more time back home alleviate her sense of alienation or would increased exposure to her “home” aggravate that same sense? Does she feel like a foreigner in both countries she’s called home?
Thank you, NiubiCowboy, for your compliment and for your questions–I am eager to answer them. The story is based on my own experience in the late 90s when I briefly returned to Beijing with the intent to stay but was quickly reminded why I had left in the first place. So after a year and half, I came back the the States and put my root down here.
The sense of alienation for my motherland (as we call it in Chinese) had always been there since I can remember, and I returned not really seeking a sense of home, but out of technical necessity. My early years in the US were difficult in more than a couple of ways, but from the moment I set foot on this country, I knew I liked it for more than a couple of obvious reasons.
By this fall, I will have lived here for 20 years. It is truely my home now. Living away from China has clarified a lot of things and having two worlds has crystalized a perspective that is reflected in every sentence I write. Do I feel like a foreigner in the US? Depends on the situation. But whatever it is, it hardly bother me at all because deep down I feel very at home.
Some of my friends (not everyone) in China felt uneasy when they first read the story (I have a Chinese version), but all of the incidents that make up the backbone of the story-telling are true, and so I told them that I am in the business of telling a story, not mitigating the truth.
my study in the US
Yaxue: I love your story. Have you written other stories? I’d like to read them. I was transported back to Beijing, where I have made six visits so far. I always wonder about the lives of the ordinary people I come in contact with. You paint wonderful word pictures about ordinary encounters. It is a real gift. I also enjoyed reading your comments to NiubiCowboy but wonder if I have missed some of them. You end with “my study in the US” – what about it? I want to read more!
Good luck and Best Wishes from 美丽。
美丽，there isn’t more to my comment–I was typing on my phone and didn’t see there were a few words left undeleted. Sorry about that.
I will be posting more stories on Amazon/Kindle soon. The next story I plan to post is called ‘The Subject’ in which a fifth grader, trying to find a real story to write for her Chinese composition class instead of fabricating lies as she has done time and again and is sick of it, finds herself mistreated, suspected of stealing, and threathened.
Yaxue: That sounds interesting and I will download it to my new Kindle on my laptop! Just let us know when you next post a story!
[…] Yaxue Cao grew up in Northern China during the cultural revolution. She will be posting reflections and her thoughts on modern China. Yaxue has written several short stories, including Six-Peace Restaurant. […]