Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Best Decade

(transcribed from videotape with necessary editing)


My family of eight sit around a table piled with spicy Sichuan dishes. Aunt Lingling (early 50s) hangs up a call on her mobile phone.

Aunt Lingling (to me): Sorry your uncle Zhao can’t come to dinner. He’s waiting to talk to a prospective employer.

Mom (early 60s): Zhao should learn how to hustle out there. He’s been out of work for two years now.

Aunt Rongling (mid 40s, aggressively to Aunt Lingling): Your Zhao is so old school, and stubborn. He needs to adapt. He can’t stay his old mute way. At his old state-owned enterprise, maybe that didn’t hurt much. Now it’s all market economy. Everyone needs to fend for himself. He should go out and meet new friends. Why don’t you teach him that? He needs to set a good example for his daughter.

She stares at cousin Jin (13 yr old, in a pink skirt) who quietly shovels rice into her mouth.

Aunt Lingling: He still thinks as in the 70s and 80s. (chuckles awkwardly) In fact, sometimes I feel like that way too.

Mom (to Aunt Lingling): I don’t know how you young people feel. For me, I like the 60s and 70s.

Me (holding camcorder, swerve to grandpa): Grandpa, which decade do you prefer?

Dad (mid 60s, laughs): Grandpa likes every decade.

Grandpa (early 80s): Me? (Pause) I like this decade but I’m getting old. If only I were younger…

Mom: What’s so good about this decade?

Grandpa: This decade is quite good.

Aunt Lingling (to mom): See, you can’t even compare to dad.

Mom: I still like the 60s and 70s. At that time people live harmoniously, and are honest with each other.

Aunt Rongling (impatiently): You’ve become dumber after the few years living in Shanghai.

Grandpa (pointing at mom): Your brain is getting too old.

Aunt Rongling (her voice up a notch): In the 60s could you live in a three-bedroom apartment like now? Could every family take shower every night?

Mom (waving her hands): I’m not talking about material life. I’m talking about the inter-personal stuff.

Aunt Lingling (gently knocking the ceramic rice bowl with her chopsticks): Aiya, the economic base determines the superstructure.

Grandpa: We live in a commercial society, don’t you understand? A commercial society IS like this.

Aunt Rongling (to mom): You need to change your old way of thinking.

Grandpa (repeating emphatically): Commercial societies ARE like this.

Aunt Lingling: Our economic condition has changed, how can people not change with it?

Mom eats, staring ahead blankly.

Aunt Lingling: Sister, the human relationship you like can’t possibly exist in today’s society. Impossible.

Mom swallows and makes another attempt.

Mom: Material-wise, I like the current decade. But for the way people communicate with each other…

Aunt Lingling: Completely impossible.

Dad has been quiet so far.

Dad (to mother): The society is progressing. Your way of thinking has stagnated at the level of the 60s and 70s.

Mom: I only hope…

Grandpa: In the 60s and 70s the material life couldn’t have been this rich and diverse.

Aunt Lingling: You can’t continue to think that way.

Grandpa: Only in a commercial society can material life prosper. We all need to grasp the laws of economics.

Me (swerves camcorder to dad): Dad, which decade do you prefer?

Dad: Of course I like the present decade. Life in the old days was so boring. Your mom’s way of thinking is outdated.

Mom (cutting in): Like the maids in our days, for twelve kuais a month, they diligently helped the family raise babies. Now you can’t find a decent maid even if you pay thousands a month.

Aunt Lingling: This is an indication that the society has progressed. The economic base has risen.

Grandpa: You still look at the maids with the old perspectives. You should treat them with a new one.

Aunt Lingling (to mom): I’m just a pragmatic person. For those things you can’t change or stop, you have to accept them. Like my husband has been laid off and I’m about to retire with a puny amount of pension. I have to accept that. For you, you want this and that as you would like. It’s impossible. You’d like to have the people as in the old days, but a modern material life. That’s totally impossible.

Dad (chuckles): The economic base determines the superstructure.

Mom: Ok ok, I accept that.

Everyone eats.


c said...

i really wish we got to hear which inter-personal stuff your mom misses. it doesn't seem antiquated to me -- you should ask her. ^_^

Beijing Loafer said...

You can tell from the conversation that my entire family is quite combative and don't have good listening skills, which I think could explain my temper somewhat.

I think my mom has been a bit traumatized by the break-in of the burglars a month ago. She doesn't feel safe. She also doesn't think people are trustworthy nowadays.

But she has always been complaining about this and that since my earliest memories! :)

Other Lisa said...

Reading this I felt bad for your mom too - like she was always on the verge of expressing herself and could not quite get the words out before someone cut her off.

Dale said...

I think I can understand your mom. I grew up in 70s. If you ask me if I could choose, which age I wanted to grow up, back then or now. I would say 70s without any hesitation. I simply cannot imagine grow up in today's China, with all its desires, confusions and cutthroat competition. It is an animal world instead of human world. 70s is no utopia, but at least a better alternative.

Both of our families probably fared pretty well materialistically in the big changes in last 20-30 years. So we at least traded in something for something else. For the hundreds of millions of laid off workers, rural migrant workers, their answers to such question is probably even more obvious.