---"The Ring of a Decade", Shanghai, 2019.12 | 《圈里圈外》摄于上海

Only a Decade

---"The Ring of a Decade", Shanghai, 2019.12 | 《圈里圈外》摄于上海

—“The Ring of a Decade”, Shanghai, 2019.12 | 《圈里圈外》摄于上海

 

“You are too short to teach.”

 

---"The View in a Classroom", Shanghai, 2019.10 | 《教室一隅》摄于上海

—“The View in a Classroom”, Shanghai, 2019.10 | 《教室一隅》摄于上海

 

A tall interviewer called me off the stage when I had just given my name. He gestured at me as if he was giving the death penalty. Teaching was the only iron rice bowl that would fit my circumstances. Now what was I supposed to do?

 

---"Teaching Kids Chess", Shanghai, 2019.11 | 《教小朋友国际象棋》樊老师摄于上海

—“Teaching Kids Chess”, Shanghai, 2019.11 | 《教小朋友国际象棋》樊老师摄于上海

 

Days before the 2009 Spring Festival, I desperately paid an agent who guaranteed me a teaching job. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, I took a smelly night train from Hainan to Guangzhou. It was a nightmare. I slept standing against a strange shoulder in the crowd without any awareness. Everyone was leaning against each other, except those who could afford a seat.

 

---"Teaching Kids Chess", Shanghai, 2019.11 | 《教小朋友国际象棋》樊老师摄于上海

—“Teaching Kids Chess”, Shanghai, 2019.11 | 《教小朋友国际象棋》樊老师摄于上海

 

The nightmare worsened when I arrived at a suburban dormitory provided by the agency. There were twelve bunk beds in a room and twelve people shared the same shower with a single toilet. Two days later, the toilet blocked. The shitty water ran all over the place. It smelled really good. No plumber would come till after the Spring Festival. Thus the daily instant noodles had no smell.

 

---"Teaching Kids Chess", Shanghai, 2019.11 | 《教小朋友国际象棋》朱老师摄于上海

—“Teaching Kids Chess”, Shanghai, 2019.11 | 《教小朋友国际象棋》朱老师摄于上海

 

This pushed me to get a job sooner. But they all rejected me for the same reason – my small size and my weak appearance. Not until one month later did I find a school that was calling for half-pay volunteers. I took it immediately.

 

---"Watching Sunset", Shantou, 2009.12 | 《看日落》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

—“Watching Sunset”, Shantou, 2009.12 | 《看日落》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

 

The school was the Migrant Workers’ Children School in Shantou City. It looked like a small factory, but it had a nice cozy feel. There were seven classrooms for seven grades of students. All desks and chairs were blue plastic. All teachers were either retired or fresh graduates. At 5pm every day, we would each carry a bucket of hot water to the toilet and together stand on the squat for a quick shower. Of course, the sexes were separate.

 

---"Observing Series I", Shantou, 2009.12 | 《观察系列一》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

—“Observing Series I”, Shantou, 2009.12 | 《观察系列一》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

 

During the first week, two school buses took us to the three main areas where most of the workers lived. We gave them handouts like a communist would hold a farmer’s hands in the Mao era. There was a fascination in that, on the bus, I was reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and, off the bus, I was experiencing a meditative moment of walking into the irregularly shabby tents that were home to them. Especially the moment when a woman bent over the waste digging gold with her face covered by flies.

 

---"Observing Series II", Shantou, 2009.12 | 《观察系列二》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

—“Observing Series II”, Shantou, 2009.12 | 《观察系列二》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

 

This sight motivated me to teach more responsibly and to seek more diversities in life. I noticed that the parents smiled often and the children were happy. I found my students’ neat resonant reading voices tranquilly peaceful. I was totally drawn by these books in Chinese: The Interpretation of Dreams and The Second Sex. Meantime I focused my weekends on writing my Chinese novel – An Oasis in Wasteland.

 

---"Observing Series III", Shantou, 2009.12 | 《观察系列三》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

—“Observing Series III”, Shantou, 2009.12 | 《观察系列三》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

 

Life then was fulfilled with originality and simplicity. I had such complete satisfaction that I felt no ending was needed by my Chinese novel. It was a perfect year of teaching. The perfection nurtured me as an oasis of spirituality. I was inspired to experience more.

 

---"Observing Series IV", Shantou, 2009.12 | 《观察系列四》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

—“Observing Series IV”, Shantou, 2009.12 | 《观察系列四》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

 

Therefore I moved to Shenzhen, working in sales till I quit to write two English novels within four years. I then came to Shanghai out of curiosity and tried to sell insurance. I stumbled into the art world.

 

---"To Be Remembered", Shantou, 2009.12 | 《学生留念》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

—“To Be Remembered”, Shantou, 2009.12 | 《学生留念》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

 

However, my family claimed that I was absolutely wrong. They repeated it during my August family trip morning, noon and night. Their biting criticisms almost crushed me. I had to compromise with the idea of returning to education. Actually it felt more like the sand in my hourglass was running out and it was time to start over.

 

---"To Be Remembered", Shantou, 2009.12 | 《学生留念》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

—“To Be Remembered”, Shantou, 2009.12 | 《学生留念》摄于汕头民工子弟学校

 

Now I’m officially working for New Stage English and teaching international chess at different international schools. Because of this job, I have seen remote parts of Shanghai that I would never have visited.

 

---"I Love China", Shanghai, 2019.12.25 | 《我爱中国》摄于上海青浦世外国际幼儿园

—“I Love China”, Shanghai, 2019.12.25 | 《我爱中国》摄于上海青浦世外国际幼儿园

 

All this happened from 2009 to 2019. It is only a decade. Only a circle. How would you like to begin a new life, if you happen to be at the starting line?

 

WeChat Image_20191229104559

 

Last article 上一篇: Our Pressures | 我们的压力

About Heather Cai:

Heather Cover

Heather is the daughter of a subsistence rice farmer from Fujian Province, China. She tells stories from her experience as one of the poorest. She writes her dream to share with the world, a very personal place. She has now written two English literary novels and is looking to being published in the UK. Her passion is a splendid cocktail or milkshake of word, image, music and art. She likes collecting books, DVDs, papers, stones, shells and leaves. She desires for all forms of natural beauty. She is currently teaching kids chess in Shanghai.

Copyright © 2018-2019 Heather Cai. All Rights Reserved. 所有版权归作者蔡太莲所有!


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Ashamed or Proud? | 羞耻还是自豪?

---"Ashamed or Proud?", Malaysia, 2015.2 | 《羞耻还是自豪》摄于马来西亚

—“Ashamed or Proud?”, Malaysia, 2015.2 | 《羞耻还是自豪》摄于马来西亚

 

Why would we feel ashamed when we haven’t done anything wrong? For being poor? For being born in a poor family? For being born a tiny creature in a poor family? 
我们没有做错事,为什么会感到羞耻呢?因为贫穷?因为出生在一个贫穷的家庭?因为与生俱来我们就是个不起眼的弱小生物?
"Weirdos". Malaysia, 2015.2 | 《怪人》摄于马来西亚

“Weirdos”. Malaysia, 2015.2 | 《怪人》摄于马来西亚

These are half of the pieces of feedback I received on my last article Bumps. They are categorized into two groups: Westerners & Easterners.
 

以下是来自读者对上篇文章《颠簸》所作反馈的一半内容,分为两部分:西方人和东方人。

 

0

 

-Westerners 西方人-

 

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1

 

Interestingly, more women feel vulnerable in silence than men. More interestingly, we don’t even hear these stories from men. Believable or unbelievable? There are far more true stories to write than fantasies to create.

有趣的是,与男性相比,更多女性在沉默中感到脆弱。更有趣的是,我们甚至很少从男人那听到类似《颠簸》的故事。可信还是难以置信?我们的身边有那么多真实的故事可以写,却有那么多人绞尽脑汁去创造一些遥远的幻想。为什么?

 

2

 

-Easterners 东方人-

 

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捕获

4

 

From being ashamed to being proud, is like a revolutionary moment of fearlessness.

从羞耻到自豪,像是一个无畏的革命性的冲锋时刻。

 

Note: To build a mutual Literature & Art community, Heather has now opened her personal channel (WeChat ID: Heather69) to her fans, who are following HeathersChamber. No cheaters!

备注由于时间和精力有限,为了建立一个互敬互惠的文学艺术圈子,阿太特向已关注此公众号的粉丝们分享她的个人微信号:Heather69 。骗子勿扰!

 

Last article 上一篇:  Bumps | 颠簸

 

About Heather Cai:

Heather Cover

Heather is the daughter of a subsistence rice farmer from Fujian Province, China. She tells stories from her experience as one of the poorest. She writes her dream to share with the world, a very personal place. She has now written two English literary novels and is looking to being published in the UK. Her passion is a splendid cocktail or milkshake of word, image, music and art. She likes collecting books, DVDs, papers, stones, shells and leaves. She desires for all forms of natural beauty. She is currently teaching kids chess in Shanghai and serving as Sergeant-at-arms (SAA) for Shanghai Leadership Toastmasters Club.

Copyright © 2018-2019 Heather Cai. All Rights Reserved. 所有版权归作者所有!

 


 

Follow HeathersChamber for more original poems, essays, prose, drawings and pictures

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Bumps | 颠簸

---Frightened, 2015.5.12 | 《害怕》

—Frightened, 2015.5.12 | 《害怕》

 

“Little shit, useless! Little shit, useless!”

My father would shout this when he beat me with a dustpan – my earliest memory. He hated me being born as a dwarf, particularly a female one. He didn’t stop beating me until one day he almost beat my mother to death.

 

---Patriarchy, 2015.5.20 | 《父权社会》

—Patriarchy, 2015.5.20 | 《父权社会》

 

Influenced by such violence in a patriarchal family, where all parents favored a boy over a girl, my brother also liked bullying me. He learned to beat me till one day he was scared when he cut my forearm deep with a scar.

 

---Scar, 2015.7.9 | 《伤痕》

—Scar, 2015.7.9 | 《伤痕》

---The Scar, 2019.10.19 | 《那道疤痕》

—The Scar, 2019.10.19 | 《那道疤痕》

 

Years of my mother staying unwell in bed gave me more chance to do farm work, housework and take care of two young sisters. And that somehow made me useful in my father’s eye.

 

---Family, 2015.5.13 | 《家庭》

—Family, 2015.5.13 | 《家庭》

 

When mother got better, I started school at ten. Things were fine till Grade Five when my Chinese teacher doubted my writing, “Have you copied this from an Essay Book?” I said no. He then left a striking red mark: Whether or not you have cribbed your article off a book, you know the best! 

 

---Vulnerability, 2015.5.12 | 《脆弱》

—Vulnerability, 2015.5.12 | 《脆弱》

---My private Shenzhen library built from a dormitory window that liked receiving wind and rain uninvited, 2013.9 | 《我的深圳私人藏书屋》

—My private Shenzhen library built from a dormitory window that liked receiving wind and rain uninvited, 2013.9 | 《我的深圳私人藏书屋》

 

The irony was that I didn’t even have a book. To prove myself, I insisted on joining a writing competition, which no one believed I should. In the end I won First Prize in the whole district. I thought that would make people look at me differently, but it didn’t. Their silence was confusing.

 

---Confusion, 2015.4.17 | 《困惑》

—Confusion, 2015.4.17 | 《困惑》

 

Nonetheless, I kept studying hard and being a good student. This didn’t change until a kidney stone that almost needed surgery in high school made me start wondering: What was the point of being good? What had good writing done for me? Why should I meet an expectation that was not mine? Why not just listen to myself?

 

---Be Wild, 2015.3.18 | 《自然野》

—Be Wild, 2015.3.18 | 《自然野》

 

Therefore I half listened to my father about becoming a teacher. But behind his back I chose Hainan Island for my college life. This was strongly against his wishes because it was too far away. For days, he didn’t sleep or eat much. At last, he gave me a thick roll of thirty-eight hundred cash and told me with red wet eyes, “This is all I have. Don’t come home until you can afford it.” 

 

---Father, 2015.4.25 | 《父亲》

—Father, 2015.4.25 | 《父亲》

 

I assured him, “Don’t worry. The school offers a five-thousand loan every year.” 

But I could never tell him that the loan was a lie. How could I?

 

---My grandfather's Medal Awarded From the Korea War, 1954 | 《爷爷的抗美援朝纪念章》

—My grandfather’s Medal Awarded From the Korea War, 1954 | 《爷爷的抗美援朝纪念章》

 

Owing half my tuition fees, I had to constantly take different part-time jobs. Yet my salary was never enough to pay off my debt. When the time came to register for the second year, the administrator refused me unless I paid off everything. Accordingly I showed him these two things: “Look, this is my grandfather’s medal awarded from the Korea War and his Military Certificate authorized by the renowned General Chen Yi. It clearly says, ‘His family get preferential treatment.’”

 

---My grandfather's Military Certificate, 1951 | 《爷爷的革命军人证明书:司令员 陈毅》

—My grandfather’s Military Certificate, 1951 | 《爷爷的革命军人证明书:司令员 陈毅》

 

“Is he still alive?” He sneered.

“No… please!” I suddenly knelt down. “My grandfather had fought many wars and sacrificed a lot. He had become crippled and deaf, and almost been killed on the battlefield. His greatest wish was to see me graduate from college.”

“Your grandpa is dead. What’s the use of all this?”

 

---Sob, 2015.7.7 | 《哭诉》

—Sob, 2015.7.7 | 《哭诉》

 

I got up slowly, pulling myself together. I began to make phone calls and borrow money. This made me sick. When I asked for a raise after three years of working for my first company, the boss killed me as a chicken to scare the monkey. And later in the second company, I found my basic salary had been underpaid for six months. What the hell made people do that to me?

 

---Mankind, 2015.5.6 | 《人》

—Mankind, 2015.5.6 | 《人》

 

Unhesitatingly I quit my full-time job to chase my writing dream. Had I not been framed by a world where the colors are drawn by child abuse, sexist bullies, social suspicions and human unkindness, would I struggle even now to tell the bumps of my life stories?

 

---A Framed Life, 2015.7.11 | 《一个被设限的生命》

—A Framed Life, 2015.7.11 | 《一个被设限的生命》

 

I’m not going to ask ‘Why me?’. Because it is not just me. It is a bunch of mes. But what bumps do you have and what impacts do they have on you?

 

---Hope, 2015.7.5 | 《希望》

—Hope, 2015.7.5 | 《希望》

 

Note: This is something that I can never feel comfortable to talk to anyone, but Toastmasters gave me courage and strength to make it a speech. You can read the original post here.

 

WeChat Image_20191018204514

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---Shanghai Leadership TMC Still Drives Me Crazy, 2019.10.19 | 《上海头马依旧让我痴狂》

—Shanghai Leadership TMC Still Drives Me Crazy, 2019.10.19 | 《上海头马依旧让我痴狂》

 

Related article:Transformations

Last article 上一篇: LEADERSHIP’S GOT TALENT | LGT

 

About Heather Cai:

Heather Cover

Heather is the daughter of a subsistence rice farmer from Fujian Province, China. She tells stories from her experience as one of the poorest. She writes her dream to share with the world, a very personal place. She has now written two English literary novels and is looking to being published in the UK. Her passion is a splendid cocktail or milkshake of word, image, music and art. She likes collecting books, DVDs, papers, stones, shells and leaves. She desires for all forms of natural beauty. She is currently living in Shanghai and serving as Sergeant-at-arms (SAA) for Shanghai Leadership Toastmasters Club.

Copyright © 2018-2019 Heather Cai. All Rights Reserved. 所有版权归作者所有!


 

Follow HeathersChamber for more original poems, essays, prose, drawings and pictures

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Mindset

WeChat Image_20190701112337

—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

Note: This is my third speech in Shanghai Leadership Toastmasters Club.

 

Does it ever occur to you that your keys are in your hand but you cannot find them? Why is that? Why does it often occur to me? Perhaps my mind was traveling, my memory terrible, my habits awful. But I never realized this could be a problem, my problem, until after the smart Michelle Wu told me, “Novel language is all about liberating the soul of the author, while public speaking is about making an instant connection with different souls.” 

 

WeChat Image_20190701112333

—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

This immediately helped put my bizarre thoughts together – my soul seems to linger in the past, my spirit seems to thrive in the future, yet my body seems to float in the present. I wondered hard how to connect my soul in the past with different souls in the present. Her words made me think about the way of my thinking, my habitual attitude, my beliefs about myself, and my most basic qualities. Her words also made me think of a high school roommate who just wouldn’t talk to me till our graduation day when I finally couldn’t help asking her why. Guess what she said? “I don’t talk to you, because you are a girl, but you look like a boy, you talk like a boy, you act like a boy and you seem to play only with boys.”

 

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—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

Oh, believe me, that confused me a lot. Since then, I would consciously ask myself: Who am I? What am I? Why am I like this? The only thing I’m certain is that I just want to write more, I can’t really care about what’s around me.

 

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—Me in Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

Then one evening during the Gossip Dinner after the Chinese Contest, the noble Suhail gently commented that my speech The Modern People was too deep, and the funny Alvin thought I must have prepared the speech for long time. That moment, my mind was enlightened. Firstly, I wrapped up the ideas on Monday, wrote the speech on Tuesday and delivered it on Wednesday. What made Alvin think that way? Secondly, why is the world I see different from the world others see? What on earth makes such a difference? 

 

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—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

Then I recalled the reason why I joined Toastmasters. Like many of you, I really want to make a proper speech. Each time when standing on the stage, I imagined it was a party like the party in The Great Gatsby and you were my guests who could be writers, editors, publishers, journalists, artists or my dear friends who know me the best. I’m sorry if I have imagined too far. But thanks to the most handsome Brian, the sensual Paul, the courageous Damir and all those who have shown me something great on the stage, I came to the conclusion that our brains work very differently. But how differently?

 

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—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

It is fascinating to ask, “Which position would you like to place your mind and which direction would you like to see?”

It is even more fascinating to know that all this wondering is just mindset.

 

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—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

What is mindset?

 

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—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

It is a way of thinking, an attitude, an opinion, or your beliefs.

 

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—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

Now think about your intelligence, talents and personality. Who believes that you have a certain amount of brain and talent and nothing can change that? Please raise your left hand. Congratulations! You have a fixed mindset. And who believes that your brain and talent can be developed through dedication and hard work? Please raise your right hand. More congratulations! You have a growth mindset.

For those who didn’t raise any hand, I have more questions for you. Have you ever judged yourself and others like: “I’m a loser.” “ I’m a better person than they are.” “I’m a bad husband.” “My partner is selfish.”? Or would you ask yourself: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner do this better?

 

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—Hongkong, 2014.1, 摄于香港

 

You don’t need to tell me the answer. This is a story we tell ourselves. But how to change the story with a growth mindset? How would you improve your speech without changing your style?

 

WeChat Image_20190701122238

 


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