Re-Experience China: Tao’s Instant Funeral

Note: This is a piece I wrote in 2015, not long after my dear friend Tao passed away.  These days, I feel particularly humbled by death. And humanity. The two sides of the coin of life.  And I remember the days I took care of my dad when he received Gama treatment for lung cancer. ( I am so grateful that my dad is still doing well.  And yet, I am not worry-free. Far from from it.  Worried and humbled, I am.

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News of Tao’s death came when I was heading to my office for the weekly newsroom meeting.

“She passed this morning. The funeral is this afternoon,”my former colleague and close friend Wang said on the phone. She was choking back her sorrow, and anger.

I could feel my heart sinking.   Tao was suffering from severe colon cancer. Chemotherapy was unbearably painful. I remember the feel of her bones when I held her in my arms two weeks before. I remember how she moaned, “Xiaomei, pain, pain, pain.” I remember how her teenage son slumped in a chair by her hospital bed. How helpless. How desperate. How useless I felt. I could do nothing for her, for anyone. I just wiped my tears discreetly at the balcony, but tears streamed down again when I turned back and saw her’s son slump.  We all knew she would leave us, soon.  But it was still difficult to accept her death. It was shocking that the funeral would be held the same day she passed.

“Why such a hurry?”I asked.

“Her in-laws said the funeral had to be before the Chinese New year and before  15th of the lunar month. Today is 14th.”


“And I am not allowed to go to the funeral.”


“Because I was born in the year of the horse. This year is the year of the horse.”

“I’ll be there.”


The funeral was in the suburb of Heyuan, a town two hours from Guangzhou where I live. When I got to the funeral home, “Only Mother Is Good,” a chintzy song from a sensational Taiwanese movie in the 1990s, gushed out of low-quality speakers, hammering the gloomy heavy air on an overcast winter afternoon. But Tao’s son was nowhere to be seen. Nor her husband. Nor her maiden family. There was a sense of surreality and absurdity.

Fewer than twenty people were lining up to enter a hall to pay their respect to Tao. They dressed casually, their faces numb.  In the hall, which was palely lit by two fluorescent lights,  a stranger was holding a portrait of hers, obviously made in a hurry.  Shouldn’t her son hold her portrait? I didn’t understand what I saw.

When it was my turn to pay respect, I wanted to spend a little time with her. Tao and I had gone to the same college and had taught at the same junior college in Heyuan.  She was a respectable and responsible teacher, a loving mother, a loyal wife and a trustworthy friend.  She was  like a big sister to me while I  often acted like a spoilt little sister. Our friendship, together with two other former colleagues who still taught at the school, had been precious at a time when vanity availed and in a country where money, power and fame seem valued over integrity and friendship. This was my last chance to take a good look at her –  in a coffin. She was scrawny.  The heavy makeup done hastily made her look  ghastly. I stared at her face and felt a chill down my spine. I was both scared and sad. Imagine all the pain she had endured.  “Xiaomei, pain, pain, pain.”  I wondered if she would feel relieved because she finally escaped all the pain that had tortured her for over a year.  Deep inside, I knew she wouldn’t.  She had wanted to live because she was so much in love with her husband and because her son was only 14 years old and needed her. She would like to see her son grow up. She would like to become a grandmother.

I wanted to say something to her, but my head was all blank. A choking emptiness. So I just stood there,  in front of her coffin, my eyes teary, my lips tight, when  someone shouted impatiently, “move on!” I looked up toward the voice and saw a man in his twenties standing at the corner of the hall, gesturing to me like a cop coordinating traffic. I glared at him.  But he was oblivious to my anger and kept waving his arm, “next one.” He was  a robot doing its job.  I took another look at my friend’s dead face with heavy makeup and walked out of the hall.

Outside, by the hallway, the funeral attenders were washing their hands – to rinse off the bad luck from nearing the dead.  A middle-aged man handed me a lucky money envelope. It was also meant to help the funeral attenders to dodge the bad luck from seeing the dead.  Death had been a taboo in Chinese Hakka culture. I was not even supposed to drop in to see my parents in town because of the funeral.

Standing outside the funeral hall, holding that red lucky money  envelop, I felt absurd, and lost. Was this it? I came all the way from Guangzhou just to spend less than one minute with my friend – which was interrupted by a rude and numb stranger? I glanced around. It was getting darker and colder. The wind sounded like a baby sobbing in the trees.  People started leaving.

So that was it. Tao would be left alone here in this ghostly funeral home, then burned to ashes. I wondered where her husband, her son, her maiden family were. Why were her closest people absent from her funeral? A good person like Tao deserved more, much more!

But then what could I do? In fact, I had to leave, too,  get back to town and take a bus back to Guangzhou. She would be left here alone and lonely, after all.

I didn’t know how I could get back to town. I had had a hard time getting a cab to drive me to the funeral home from downtown Heyuan because nobody wanted to be near a place associated with death. I paid an extra fee and begged for sympathy to get someone to drive me there, reluctantly. The driver groused loudly the whole way from the bus station to the funeral home that the extra fee I paid was not enough to cover the bad luck he might get from nearing the dead.

Luckily, Lin, a former colleague, also a good friend, spotted me and asked her colleague to give me a lift back to town. I started complaining right after I got in the car, “This is a ridiculously indecent funeral. And where is Liu (Tao’s husband)? Where is her son? And her maiden family? Where are they!”

Lin hushed me, “Let’s talk another time.”  She blinked and shook her head. There was something she knew but I was yet to find out.

I was later told that Tao’s husband  didn’t attend the funeral because he was born in the year of the  sheep and the coming Chinese New Year was the year of the sheep. Her son was “protected” from the funeral because he was 14 years old in the year of 2014!   Tao’s maiden family boycotted the funeral because they believed Tao’s in-laws pulled her feeding tube on the morning of the 14th of December (Chinese lunar calendar, 15 days before Chinese New Year) so that the funeral happened before the 15th. Tao’s in-laws had told them that according to a fortune teller, Tao would pass before the 15th. They were forbidden to visit Tao in the last two days before her death. “A married woman belong to her in-laws,” They were asked to respect the tradition. Tao’s in-laws firmly believed that Tao’s funeral had to be finished before  Dec. 15th, otherwise bad luck would follow the family. Tao’s sister Yan refused to accept their traditions and practices. “Isn’t this coincidence too obvious? The funeral must be before the 15th and my sister died on the 14th!  And we were not allowed to visit her. Why? So they could pull the tube!”

But they couldn’t provide evidence of Tao’s in-laws pulling her feeding tube.  Now the two families are enemies. Tao’s in-laws wouldn’t allow her son to visit her maiden family. Her husband is grieving from losing his wife, burdened with  guilt (of not attending her funeral) and fear (to live the rest of his life without a wife) and the responsibility to raise all by himself a sorrowful son.

Wang was  furious when she heard about the indecency of Tao’s funeral. Wang and Tao had worked together for almost 15 years and had been close friends. They had taken care of each other like family. Wang had done more for Tao when she was sick in hospital than most of Tao’s in-laws. But in the end, she was forbidden to attend her funeral simply because she was born in the year of the horse. What really broke her heart was the absence of Tao’s husband and her son from the funeral. She confronted Liu, “Why?”

Liu begged for pity, “I have lost Tao. I can’t afford to lose more.”

Wang didn’t forgive him till almost nine months later, “It’s never easy (to forgive him). But now I try to understand him. I never doubt his love for Tao even though he didn’t attend her funeral. I guess he and his family indeed believe in all those superstitions. He is a victim, too. ”

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Let there be light, again

Two glasses of Spanish red wine downed, I move the curser, click the mouse, and Mitsuko Uchida plays Mozart. K466, one of my all time favorites. One of the pieces that can boil my blood, calm my head, and make  my torso  move almost like  my head, my neck, my arms, my fingers, my legs, my feet until I am drunk in my blood with an illusion that I was the conductor and pianist. But I am clear in my head, because I suddenly   remember that imaginary President Underwood saying something like “it is time to sail with the wind, not against it.” And I remember that runner I photographed not long ago. I remember asking him how he started running. He said he was pestered by all kinds of problems just as we all do. Relationships problems. Family issues. Career bottleneck. So he  runs to the mountain, to nature. He keeps running. Running and running and running. Now he wants to run across North America, then south American. Maybe around the world after that.  “Like Forest Gump?” I remember saying to him. Then I made him run toward light. Night was about to fall and I made run toward light. Let there be light, I remember saying to myself silently, Let there be light. Now Uchida is playing Schubert D. 960. Another piece I love deeply. Come tomorrow, I shall go see the sea, with Mozart and Schubert, and my kindle.

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In Foshan, Guangdong, a British International school, Lady Eleanor Holles (LEH) , is to be built. On its groundbreaking day, I was struck by the juxtaposition between the LEH students in a poster and peasant-worker-onlookers on the site in Foshan.

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A cat passes a wall of graffiti, a famous artist passes his painting

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Re-Experience China:  “An Arm is No Match for a Leg”

“Guess what time I start my day,” Mr. Guo chuckled, not without pride, when I thanked him for picking me up at the hotel.

It was 6:20 am when I climbed into his car, so I guessed he started his day around 5 am, like most dayshift taxi drivers.

He laughed, “I get up at three and leave home around four.”

I wowed, then, “but is it worth it, since few needs taxi service from four to six?”

“If I don’t leave home early,  I’d be stuck in the morning traffic. Traffic is really bad in Jinan (the capital city of Shandong Province).”

He must be living quite far from the city center, I thought.  As in many cities of China,  house prices in Jinan, an inland city not known by many foreigners, are  ridiculous. Twenty to Thirty thousand RMB per square meter in the city, about fifteen thousand forty minutes away or  farther.

He continued, “Guess how many hours I work every day!”

I presumed he handed the car to the nightshift around four or five in the afternoon.

But I was wrong again.

“I am the only driver of this car,” he said proudly.

“You worked till nine or ten in the evening?” I sounded incredulous, but by then, I wouldn’t be shocked if he worked later than ten.

He counted the hours, then said, “not that many hours. I call it a day around eight. Go home, eat, go to bed about nine, then get up at three.”

I wowed again, “So you don’t see your family very much then. Don’t they complain?”

He sighed, then chuckled, “Separate beds, united hearts! I don’t want my wife to work outside. I am the only bread earner. I have to make enough for five: my parents, my wife, my daughter, and myself of course.”

“Really long days,” I said.

He laughed again.  Light-hearted laughter of a chubby middle-aged taxi driver.

“Do you take a day off every week?” I asked.

“Not really. I take a break only when I feel really tired. I am the only bread earner,  I’ve told you.”

“Life is not easy, isn’t it?” I found my words empty and felt embarrassed.

“I am used to it. Been doing this since 2007,” he sounded proud and cheerful, which I admired greatly.

“What did you do before 2007?”

“I was in the army.  A soldier for over ten years, three of which in Xinjiang.”

“But doesn’t the government assign you veterans government jobs?”

“In theory, yes.” He paused, then continued, “but you should know the Communists. What they say is one thing, what they do another.”

A former soldier criticizing the government took me by surprise. I fell silent for a moment, then gingerly, “So you are anti-communist?”

“An arm is no match for a leg. (A Chinese slang meaning the weak can’t defeat the strong.) I can’t say I am anti-communist.”

“Disagree with them?” I lowered my voice further.

“Right. Disagree is the word,” he said,  “but really, an arm is no match for a leg.  Futile to fight. The other day, I had a passenger, a granny in her seventies. She said to me, ‘you must denounce your Communist Party membership! Denounce it immediately!’ Guess how I reply? I said, ‘what are you fighting for at your age, with your old bones?  I tell you, an arm is no match for a leg, particularly not your old arm. You listen to me, take care, cherish what you have, enjoy the rest of your life, no more fight.  Fighting is futile. Pointless.  An arm is no match for a leg! Lucky you are in my cab. Another driver would take you directly to the police station.’ She shut up immediately.   Am I not right?  An arm is no match for a leg.”

I forced a laugh.

He  continued, “So I work hard, make as much as I can for my family, try to be content. You can’t rely on the government. Fighting is pointless. I don’t go to protests.  Now there is face detection. You go to a protest, the next day, the cops show up at your door. They don’t arrest you while you protest in a group.  They get you individually, at your home! A few of my fellow veterans were taken by the police several months ago.”

“What for?”

“Protest. We veterans are supposed to receive monthly subsidies, more than two thousand (RMB) a month, from the central government. But they never came. The local government kept them.  So we protested.”

“Oh, you did protest!”

“Well, that’s money I deserve, more than two thousand a month! I should go. But I kept a low profile, I tagged along at the tail of the group and mingled with the crowd. Never go to the front line.  Those at the front line were put to jail for five days. In China, the outstanding bird gets shot first.”

“Did you get your subsidies after the protest?”

“We did!”

“The protest worked  then.”

“Still, an arm is no match for a leg. That’s why I  work long hours. I  rely on myself and my family on me. And we are a happy family.”

He did sound happy and laughed a lot as we chatted our way to the airport.  He was not annoyed when he found that he didn’t have enough gas to return to the city and the gas station at the airport was closed. He unloaded my luggage, and with the same sincere smile I saw  from the hotel lobby, he wished me a safe journey.

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Portraits of Artists: Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy

When I read my colleague Bernice Chan’s interview  with Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy, it was almost like listening to him talking again, his eyes glistening with childlike smiles. Shining miles revealing a pure soul. Bernice and I were lucky to get two tickets to listen to him  conducting Glazunov and Beethoven. And we had the best seats! It was one of the best concerts I’ve been to in the past two years. For weeks after the concert, I listened to him and Beethoven at youtube with my Denon earphones late at night, getting too hyper to sleep, till I shifted to Uchida playing Mozart and Schubert, which also stole some of my necessary sleep. My mother would say I am hopeless, like drug addicts.

Here is the piece by Bernice:

(Photos ©  SCMP?Xiaomei Chen)

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Are We Double Blessed Now?

My mother suddenly announced that she now believed in Jesus, in a tone of a three-year-old declaring herself to be a grownup.

My siblings and I were as shocked as amused by her announcement. How would a Hakka woman as traditional as my mother fit in with Christians?  How could one who knows nothing about Christianity become a Christian out of blue?  And why?

Out of curiosity, I followed her to a Bible study group on an April  afternoon in 2016.  It was at the home of a church member, half a kilometer from my parents’ house in Heyuan City, Guangdong Province.

Hardly had I entered the wide-open gate, when an old woman in her late seventies  shot her hand in front of me and shouted, “sister, for you!”

She was giving me two small packets of wafer biscuits. Taken by surprise, I was not sure if I should accept the gift from a stranger, when another old woman, also in her seventies, explained to me, “her great-grandson was born today.”

Before I got a chance to congratulate her, the new great grandmother shot her hand to my mother, “sister, for you!”

So both my mother and I are her sisters?

My mother took the wafer biscuits with a take-it-for-granted smile as she glanced around the room, looking for empty seats. Then she took my hand and walked to two empty plastic stools against the east wall of the room. By then, the 20-square-meter rectangular room was almost full – full of grey hair, bleary eyes, withered cheeks, toothless mouths and callused hands. There were  30 people, all of whom except one were women and  three quarters of them over 60 years old. The group leader was a middle-aged woman who had the look of a strict elementary school teacher.  As she sat on a stool higher than ours at the front of the room, surveying the room, another woman in her forties   announced in Hakka, “open your books and turn to hymn 312.”

Most women looked around confused.  Several repeated “312” loudly. Sounds of fumbling books filled the room but was soon replaced by a medley of Hakka voices singing out of tune.

I looked around and was shocked to see thirty toothless or semi-toothless mouths gaping open and closed, thirty black holes spitting a volley of untuned music notes in Hakka. A volley of wishes for health, fortune, peace and grandsons.  I turned to look at my mother. She was looking down at the book, singing like a mosquito. Born a shy person and still new to Christianity, she was probably feeling uncomfortable to sing out loud with a group of strangers. But most other women were singing at the top of their lungs like a group of elementary school kids singing after their favorite teacher.

After three hymns came the prayer. A woman prayed loudly in Hakka with such passion that it sounded like a broken piano being hit by many stones at the same time. The voice at least kept the women awake, who ended the prayer with “Amen! As wished and with loyalty!”

With that, the group leader started the preach of the day and talked about forgiving. In less than fifteen minutes, a third of the women started dozing off, including my mother. I nudged her arm. She  turned to me and grinned guiltily.  She needn’t have felt guilty at all. The monotonous preaching was nothing new and it was what my parents had taught me when I was a kid. I myself would have dozed off if I had not been interested in observing my mother’s fellow Christians. Both my mother and I were relieved when the sermon was over after almost two hours sitting on a plastic stool.

“Do you agree with what the preacher said?” I asked my mother right after we left the gathering.

“I agree,” my mother said earnestly, “we should forgive.”

“So are you going to forgive Mrs Miao?” 

Mrs. Miao was our next door neighbor for decades, a very difficult woman who hated my mother for no reason and had created quite some dramas over the years. She died unexpectedly the day before.

My mother was taken by surprise, then laughed embarrassedly, “oh, dear, I can’t forgive Miao. No, I really can’t forgive her!”

I laughed, too, about my mother’s childlike honesty.

When I asked her if she would continue to go to church, she told me about Chong, Mrs Miao’s niece.

Chong joined the church ten years ago. She sings hymns all the time. She sings when cleaning. She sings when cooking. She sings when walking. She would sing when eating if she had two mouths. Chong, who was a grumpy wife and mother, is now a very happy person.  “Jesus makes her happy,”  my mother said admiringly. But I doubt Jesus would make my mother as happy as Chong because she wouldn’t be satisfied until all her children were happily married and all her children, particularly her son, have their own children – sons preferred.

A month later, I went to Heyuan Gospel Church with my mother in downtown Heyuan City.  It is a church founded by two German priests in 1897, now  registered  under  China’s Religious Affairs Bureau, with over 3000 members. The gathering here was a much bigger version of my mother’s Bible study group. Over three quarters of the members were women older than 60. The preaching (about husband-wife relationship this time) was again monotonous and long.  A few women chitchatted in a low voice.  Some dozed off.  My mother was obviously bored and from time to time looked around searching for familiar faces. Three months after joining the church, she had not made new friends yet.

“What do you think?”  I asked my mother when we walked out of the church.

“I agree with him (the preacher). But he is too long winded. He circles round and round, saying the same thing over and over again.” Then she added with an amused look, “those illiterate women follow the Bible better than me. ”

Back home, I asked my father why he didn’t go to church, he replied, “gee, most church goers are older women. Besides, the Bible contradicts Marxism and evolutionism I was taught as a Communist Party member. It is hard to change a belief you acquired at a young age. And the Christians are not that different from the red guards worshipping Mao during the Cultural Revolution.”

My mother gave me a different answer, “one goes to church, Jesus blesses the whole family. Your father needn’t go.”

I later found it was actually my father’s idea that my mother should go to church.  He got this idea after a neighbor, Mrs. Chen told him that Jesus visited her in a dream when she was very sick several years ago, “He asked me, ‘are you feeling better today?’  The next day, I felt much better. Not long after that, I got out of hospital.  Jesus blesses me!”

So my mother, who had never read the Bible, started going to church, at my father’s suggestion.

Quite a surprise. But an understandable surprise.

My parents were both born before communism took over China, but they were taught Marxism (China version) and evolutionism at school,  expecting progress in all aspects of life only to witness regress in both the society and their personal lives: corruption and social injustice in the big world despite the rapid progress in sciences and technologies, aging and ailing in their small world. What bothers them the most, however, is that they still don’t have a grandson while some of their cousins are now great-grandparents. By the way, my sisters’ children don’t count as only my brother’s son could carry on the family line according to Chinese Hakka tradition.

Sometimes they blame our family’s Fengshui. They invited several Fengshui masters to inspect our home over the years. They followed a couple Fengshui masters’ advices and moved our house gate twice. This didn’t bring luck to the family as wished.  Three years ago, another Fengshui master suggested our gate be moved (again!) to where my mother’s bedroom was. Fortunately, my parents didn’t follow this advice.

My mother also sought blessings from a local Taoist temple as well as from a sorceress. So far, nothing fantastic has happened as my parents wish. They continue to age and ail. My mother hurt her back in 2015. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer the same year.  Two of their children are still single. They still have no grandson to carry on the family line.

They must feel helpless sometimes. So when my father heard about “the magic” Jesus did to their neighbor, he made my mother go to church.  He refrains himself from Christianity so that he can still worship our ancestors. This way, we might be double blessed. This is how my parents do their math of life.

They are not alone when it comes to doing math of life. When asked to join the church, the mother of a friend of mine from Yunnan Province did a calculation and decided that the time she was to spend at the church and learning the Bible equaled a loss because she couldn’t work on the farm or in the house.  Loss of working time, loss of income.  She decided against the membership of the Village Communist Party Committee for the same reason.  The small gifts from the Party are not worth the  fee she would have to pay  to the Party and the loss of her time, she told her son.

When my mother announced her new religion, my sister said in an amused tone, “so from now on we won’t worship our ancestors on Chinese New Year?” (It is commonly believed among my mother’s fellow Christians that once converted to Christianity, one should renounce all other beliefs.)

Before my confused mother found an answer, my 85-year-old father, a reticent man,  jumped to make his statement, “I don’t believe in Jesus!”

Obviously my father would hate to lose blessings from our ancestors. In his perfect calculation, my mother’s going to church would bring home blessings from Jesus, while his absence from the church would give our ancestors no reason to abandon us. Thus, we would be double blessed. 

But are we double blessed now? Are we?

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Portraits of artists: Xu Bing

The very first time I saw his artworks, I knew he would remain one of my favorite contemporary Chinese artists. That artwork is called “Book from the Ground.” It depicts a day of a man’s life with emojis, and emojis only. Witty and full of humor. Then there is “Book from the Sky,” in which he creates characters that look very real, but are actually conjured up by him. No one can understand those beautiful characters. Thus named book from the sky.  Great imagination. Even greater is its philosophical message.  If Xu creates something, it is something important, something worth our attention and contemplation. Recently, I am fascinated by his movie “Dragonfly Eyes.” A very powerful movie.  I photographed him when he came to Hong Kong for the premiere of “Dragonfly Eyes.” This movie may remind you of the warning from George Orwell’s “1984.” But Mr. Xu says, “no, it is beyond that.” I quite agree with him. Even George Orwell might be shocked by how we willingly, sometimes eagerly surrender ourselves to the public eyes in this digital and internet age.  And here is the trailer of  “Dragonfly Eyes,” a film without actors, actresses and a camera crew.  Brilliant, isn’t it?



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From Mozart to Man Ray to Jimmy Choo

I have been jumpy these days, starting from  my obsession with Mitsuko Uchida.

Even though I urge myself to concentrate on my writing after dinner almost every evening, I  put on my earphones right after I open my laptop,  soon get lost under Uchida’s piano spell and totally forget about my promise to write.

Last night, I indulged myself with Uchida playing Schubert’s D960. And I listened to it twice, which means I didn’t go to bed till after 1 a.m and I had to struggle to get up for my morning assignment in New Territory today. Yet I didn’t feel guilty about failing  to finish my writing quota of the day, or about sacrificing my health by staying up too late. But I hope I don’t miss my deadline for the article on my hometown river. Maybe I will write it tomorrow night.

Tonight, I couldn’t get myself off Uchida conducting and playing Mozart’s K. 466.  From K.466, my brain roams to Mozart’s violin concertos No. 3 and 5, two of my all time favorites. Naturally, they drove my brain  to Man Ray’s famous photograph “le violon d’ingres (the violin of Ingres), then to my apple project, which I did not long before I moved back to Asia from US.  From apples, I think of shoes.  I wonder if one can do an interesting art project with shoes. Say, shoes by shoe guru Jimmy Choo, whom I photographed last week.


Image result for man ray photography violin

le violon d’ingres (the violin of ingres) by Man Ray, 1924 model: kiki

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Happy Father’s Day父亲节,聊聊女权运动中的男人

七岁的黄圣智(Tony Huang)看见父亲黄磊,飞奔过去,跳到他的怀里,亲他一口。黄磊回亲儿子一口,问他都做了什么,嘴巴笑成一条弧线。每天下午3点,黄磊离开公司到小学接大儿子圣智,然后带着圣智去幼儿园接小儿子其原(Alvin Huang)。从幼儿园出来,父子仨在公园里玩耍,然后走路回家。小学、幼儿园和家都在瑞典首都斯德哥尔摩西郊 Västra Skogen 附近,步行不用十分钟。两岁的其原还没学会讲话,已很善于表达自己,很黏黄磊,有时会耍点小脾气,黄磊总是很耐心。圣智大概偶尔会吃点小醋,那天因为我在,没和弟弟争宠,拉着我的手要带我看他的各种发现:蚂蚁窝、猫头鹰、啄木鸟、老鹰、小山坡上的一块大岩石、一棵大树下的鸟食槽、花园里刚冒出头的郁金香 …… 他几次提醒我 :“阿姨,走路千万小心,别踩着蚂蚁。”偶尔扭过头提醒黄磊:“爸爸,别踩着蚂蚁。”带着瑞典口音的京腔,娇声软语,能让人感受到他生长在有爱的环境里。黄磊笑呵呵地看着儿子,不无骄傲地说:“儿子是我一把屎一把尿带大的。”

在斯德哥尔摩中心社区 Södemalm,建筑设计师和电影艺术家 Daniel Bengstson 在家与14个月大的儿子玩游戏,给他换尿片,喂他吃饭,抱他到楼顶嗮太阳、看风景,带他超市购物。他在休产假,正值产假的第四个月。伴侣 Anna 晚上下班回家问他们父子俩一天都做了什么,他笑答,你该问有什么我们没有做的。他觉得 Anna 妒忌他可以一整天陪儿子,嫉妒他们父子之间的亲密,因此很得意,虽然带孩子烦琐而辛苦,一天下来,累得要趴下。但休产假带儿子的经历让他改变了以往独来独往、独自工作的习惯。儿子给他一种神圣的责任感。因为儿子,他更愿意直接面对矛盾,而他的内心却更加柔软。“看到小孩子,心简直要融化掉。”他笑着说。可是,他自己的父亲并不理解休产假的行为,认为带孩子浪费了他艺术家的才能,对男人的事业是一种伤害。

如果 Daniel 的父亲认识身为投资咨询公司创办人和 CEO 的黄磊,他又会怎么想呢?他会不会改变关于男人休产假的想法,会不会认为做事业与养孩子可以没有冲突?





在瑞典,父母双方一共可以休480天产假,其中父母各自有90天必修产假,其余300天由双方自由分配。休产假期间可领取80% 的工资。孩子满12岁前,如果生病了,父母每年可以累积请假120天。照顾生病孩期间,他们也可领取工资的80%。这些家庭福利之所以能实现,和瑞典税收制度很有关系。瑞典的收入税全世界最高,不少人纳税高达工资的50%以上。正是高税收使这里成为世界上最平等的国家之一,税收政策和透明制度保障了公民从摇篮到坟墓的基本福利。除了父母可以休产假、照顾孩子的病假,瑞典还有高质量的免费教育,这进一步捍卫了国家的平等和幸福指数。而性别平等正是瑞典平等社会极其重要的一部分。

4月,瑞典学院在斯德哥尔摩举办了性别平等论坛。三天会议中,我经常听到一句话:瑞典政府是一个女权政府(AFeminist Government),但还远未达到真正的性别平等。会议结束没多久就爆发诺贝尔文学奖性丑闻。这似乎证明,即便是瑞典,离真正的性别平等也还有很远。有多远?无人能给出确切的答案。但有一点是肯定的,没有男性的参与,两性的平等将遥遥无期。

幸运的是,已经有男性开始参与女权运动。有像黄磊和Daniel 这样的父亲和伴侣,并不自称为女权人士,但一直用行动给家人平等、尊重和爱,一言一行都是对后代的性别平等教育。不难想见,当黄磊和Daniel的儿子们长大成人,他们会很自然地、以完全平等的心态与女性相处。

还有以“女权主义者”自居的男性。来自赞比亚的 Nelson 1997年投身女权运动,经常被嘲讽为“穿裤子的女人”。Nelson 年来致力于赞比亚的性别平等教育,工作重点是向18至24岁的年轻人,尤其是年轻男性灌输两性平等和科学生育的理念。Nelson 说,“要改变人们对‘男子汉气概’的定义。对女人温柔,帮女人做家务活并不等于没有男子汉气概。”他经常到赞比亚农村,与农村男人围着篝火聊天,掘、发展每个村庄平等运动的“领头羊”,再通过这些“领头羊”向更多人传输性别平等思想。

Nelson 打破了我对非洲国家的一些偏见。2017年世界经济论坛发表的《全球性别差距报告》也显示,非洲的性别平等指数高于亚洲。近几十年来经济飞速增长的中国,性别平等指数低于世界平均水平,比津巴布韦、肯尼亚、塞内加尔等非洲国家要低,是否因为非洲比中国有更多像 Nelson 这样致力于性别平等的男性女权主义者呢?

即便在性别平等指数低于中国的印度,也有男性女权主义者。Abhijit Das是一名妇科医生,1985年开始从医。在几十年从医生涯中他发现,相比于生理疾病,印度社会不公对女性的伤害更大。不少印度女性的妇科疾病其实是人为所致。家暴、强奸在印度从不罕见。2000年,Abhijit Das 开始全身心投入女权运动中,组建了推广两性平等的非政府组织 MASVAW (Member of the Alliance and Gender Equality)。注重推广女性的性与生育健康权利。他还是健康与社会正义中心(Center for Health and Social Justice)主任。在他看来,只有男人意识到两性平等的重要性并积极参与其中,性别平等才有可能实现。

像 Nelson 和 Abhijit Das 这样男性目前仍是少数,但他们打破了人们对“男子汉”的刻板印象。如今,越来越多人开始反思,男子汉气概究竟是什么?男人表达情感、流泪、为妻子洗衣做饭、给孩子换尿片是否代表“男子汉气概”丧失? 当男人开始思考这些老问题的时候,社会离两性平等就更近了一步。

然而,即便男人们开始反思、重新定义“男子汉气概,”并真心希望促成两性平等,性别平等也无法马上广泛实现。我们离同工同酬还有距离。几乎在所有的国家,包括瑞典,同等资历的女性收入都低于男性。据 Facebook 高管雪莉·桑德伯格在网站 leanin.org发表的数据,女性平均工资比男性低20%。不难想象,如果丈夫的工资高于妻子20% 甚至更多,即便政府给予他们瑞典式的假期,也会是挣钱更多的丈夫正常上班,收入较少的妻子照顾孩子。两性经济不平等得不到改变,两性真正平等的愿景就很难实现。

乐观地说,女性的地位在过去半个世纪里的确有了改进。Metoo 运动证明女性在觉醒。黄磊、Daniel、Nelson 和Abhijit Das 这样的男人也让我们看到希望。Metoo 运动在未来也许会成为历史,不再隔三差五登上新闻。而在父亲节,孩子们会像感谢母亲那样,感谢父亲为自己和母亲做的一切,正如他们的母亲为家庭所做的那样。又或者,未来社会并不需要父亲节、母亲节或儿童节这样的日子来提醒我们家庭中某位成员的重要性。因为那时,每个人每天都享有爱与平等,不需要特定的日子来提醒世人,我们值得拥有这样的平等和快乐。

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