1000 a Day – Day 4

My grandparents live in an apartment housing complex maintained by the Chinese government and given to those who have rendered exceptional services to the Party and country. They’ve lived there for as long as I can remember, and still do, despite the government having offered them much better and newer places because their “rank” and importance have gone up the older they get. This country does rather treat its elderly generations as treasures of a sort. My grandparents have refused to move, recently claiming that it will be too much of a hassle, and it probably is; after at least 30 some years they’ve accumulated two apartment’s worth of stuff and packing and moving it all seem quite daunting. The second apartment’s worth of stuff is by the way across the hall from where they live, in a place my father is renting. Incidentally, he’s not allowed to rent from this complex in any official capacity, being pure government housing, so is doing so under the table style from the current occupants who are the last remaining descendants of yet another batch of important old folks. My grandmother is also a deeply patriotic but modest woman, of whom I hold in great esteem, and she refuses to accept any more from this country that she loves for services she’s rendered. In her words, it’s “good enough.” In my grandparents apartment, when I was small and my great grandmother was still alive, four generations lived under the same roof; my grandmother has aspirations of such conditions again, though there’s no pressure, or so they say.

I’ve never fully explored the complex. There are at least 11 buildings, each three stories high, each with three doors, and a total of, by estimate, 18 apartments per building. There are military guards at the entrance to the complex, and you can watch them march with rigid discipline for even simple things like greeting incoming cars. The streets within the complex are tree lined, with bushes and shrubs underfoot, and basically every apartment has some kind of enclosed patio or garden attached. It’s actually quite scenic when the weather is nice. But as I said, I’ve never fully explored the complex; I’ve only ever wandered around my grandparent’s immediate building. One of these days, I really should go and look around.

The area they live in is quite far from the tourist hot spots of today. They’re within walking distance of YuYuanTan, a nice park with a large lake in it, and DiaoYuTai, a fancy government hotel where former presidents of the United States used to stay on visits. There are lots of other government buildings and bureau buildings near my grandparents. It’s for this reason that the tourists stay away; it’s really a locals part of town.

Not much has changed on the inside of my grandparent’s apartment. Their piano is missing, having been recently moved to my restaurant, and a large portion of the books, many tens of shelves worth, have been moved to my father’s apartment. Some of the furniture’s been swapped out, as have the decorations, but all in all, it’s as I remember it from when I was six and younger, but smaller. I remember spending lots of time in my grandfather’s study back then, looking up at the walls with wonder at the books and diagrams, at the electronics he had taken apart on his work table. I still look in wonder at these artifacts from a different era strewn around their place, but nothing is as big or awe inspiring as it once was.

I used to play in the yards and gardens with my cousin Michael, the one I mentioned previously, born of my father’s sister. There were small, brick paths winding just next to the walls on the inside of all the gardens and they allowed you to walk sideways the entire length of the building, covered from view by the trees and foliage. I remember once, after it had rained, we were mucking around these paths when we found a worm in the mud. Being boys, we were obviously fascinated and picked it up and moved it onto the brick path for further, more detailed observation. Its top half wriggled back and forth on the brick, leaving little streaks of muddy water. It stretched itself out as it tried to move, half as thin as before and twice as long, then back again to its original size.

My cousin found a loose brick from somewhere and smashed the worm.

We didn’t move the brick, mostly because I thought it might be disgusting to look at now. We left it there and continued on our way. Some time later, I remember going back and finding the brick right where we had left it. I lifted it and saw the worm dead and dried on the underside. It wasn’t disgusting anymore, and the detail that was left imprinted on the brick was surprising and beautiful; you could make out each individual segment and all of its textures. I put the brick back down as gently as I could, taking care to not disturb the dried remains on the bottom. Years later, when in the US, upon seeing fossils for the first time at a museum, I remember being struck by how curiously similar the two were, this museum piece, and that brick from when I was young.

Also regarding worms, I think at some point my cousin and I tried cutting them in half and seeing if they’d grow back into two worms. I also think he ate a couple at some point with deleterious effects on his health.


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