A wall away, A world away

March 11th, 2011

I heard my neighbours again last night. The walls in my building are thin and I could hear the loud rustling and bangs from the other room. I can’t make out what they’re saying and Xu says they are not from Wuhan because they aren’t speaking the local dialect. The shouting gives me shivers and Xu translates the woman’s pleas. She’s begging him to stop. I close my eyes and burry my head into his chest. It’s so terrible and I don’t know what to do.

I feel so powerless here. I strongly believe that we should help each other; we need to reach out to those in need and make them know they aren’t alone. But living in China makes me feel like a naïve child; somehow it just doesn’t seem to work that way here.

“We need to call the police!” I tell Xu and he looks at me baffled and then I realize how silly I sound. I remember a time when I saw a full on street brawl and no one called the police. People don’t call the police here; it seems that would just bring more trouble.

“Well what ARE we going to do? Isn’t there somewhere she can go?” I ask and he just hugs me tighter. “This isn’t Canada, Bonnie,” he says.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I tossed and turned in bed thinking about my neighbours so close but so far away.

A couple sleepless nights later, over tea I asked my friend Anna her thoughts. Anna had previously very candidly told me about growing up in a family with domestic violence. Ten years ago, she came home from primary school one day to their quiet two-bedroom flat and there in her kitchen she saw her father in a rage holding a knife up to her mother’s throat. After that the next afternoon, without her mother knowing, she asked her father to leave. And the next morning he was gone. They never saw him again.

Blowing on my tea I told her what I’d heard and asked her what I should do. “You’d better do nothing. It’s not like the West you know. I heard in the West you have shelters and resources to help women like her. But here there’s nowhere she can go except maybe her original parents, but there’s just too much shame in that. If you said anything it would just be terrible for her. The worst part of all is the gossiping of the neighbours. I remember how I hated seeing the pity in their eyes and the fact that they are just so pleased with themselves for having a better life.”

Anna is a woman who amazes me with her strength. She now supports herself and her mother through her wages as a nurse. She works long hours and saves every penny just to see her mom smile. She tells me how her only wish is that she can save enough money to give her mother a better life. “I don’t want her to regret having me. I know that she must.” It scares me how deeply Anna truly believes her mother regrets having her. She’s sure of it and I can’t even imagine how that must feel.

But there’s such a strength and beauty to Anna. I often wish I could write down every word she says and turn it into a book; her story blows me away. Anna says “三十年河东,三十年河西,” (30 years on the east side of the river, 30 years on the west side of the river) which means you can never tell what the future will bring and that anything is possible. I only hope that is true for my neighbour; though I highly doubt she can wait 30 years.


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