Each and Every Journey

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| This is the 211th story of Our Life Logs |


Who am I but many stories—

Each and every adventure far greater than the last.

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1 | My Father Especially

I was born in 1964 in Nanjing, a city in eastern China immersed in the nation’s deep culture and enduring history. My parents—my father especially—were very liberal for the society in which we lived. A retired army officer, my father was well-educated at the time. He loved music and taught me to play accordions. He loved nature and took us to hike in the mountains. He loved to dress up and taught us how to put together clothes to look nice. He loved taking photos for us with his first-generation, made-in-China camera. More importantly, he asked us to study. He loved reading classic novels in English, and encouraged us to learn English at a very early age. He always voiced his opinions regardless of the consequences and taught us to do the same. I admired him.

From him, I understood that the mind was valuable, and I was so often reminded that I was valuable, too.

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My father and me.

Though the inside of our home was happy, China was experiencing social changes that brought a lot of hardship. In 1966, the Cultural Revolution began and put millions of innocent people in danger over the course of the next ten years. Families became separated, homes were ransacked, and many suffered torturous, sometimes fatal.

One day when I was about six years old, we were at home waiting for our father to come back from work. The sky darkened, and he had not yet walked through the front door. We waited, and waited more. Eventually, one of my father’s coworkers showed up, bringing us the most unwanted news.

“Your dad is not coming home today.”

He told us that my father had been arrested. At that time, government troops had been formed to uncover people who were perceived to have affiliation with the anti-revolutionary “516” Movement. As part of this exercise, my father got detained. Wrongly.

He did not return for six months.

I couldn’t imagine what torture he had been put through—it was suffering for our entire family. The years following his release seemed stained with a dark cloud of anxiety over our heads. If my father was ever late coming home, I immediately panicked.

While it was sad that my sister and I had to grow up this way, I believe it allowed us to grow up quickly. This maturity toughened our minds, but it did not break our hearts—my father would never allow that.

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2 | Would You Believe Me

The cloud hanging over my family impacted my school life too, as my father had been labeled a “bad person.” As a young girl, it was hard for me to understand the injustice, and I began to take on a heart of frustration and embarrassment. It could have gone on like that for the rest of my life, but thankfully, my parents encouraged me to be hopeful and diligent. Time would pass and the perceptions of others would fade.

If I had waited in my bitterness, I would have robbed myself of all the wonderful things I learned. Luckily, I didn’t. I found that I loved adding new information to my mind’s eye. I wanted to know why, and how, and when. Always. I grew up to be the star student—if I’m being candid—which allowed more for adventures in my life than what was on the factory compounds. At 15, I was accepted into the best high school in our province.

The perceptions of others did indeed fade. I was happy, and I found that it was easier to dream with a happy heart.

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My last year of high school with two of my friends (I’m on the right).

After graduating high school, I dreamed of joining the world of broadcasting journalism. I had absorbed my father’s affinity for the English language and I wanted to do something that spoke to my heart. My passion met with my hard work, and I got admitted into the most prestigious journalism school in China: Beijing Broadcasting Institute. I suppose those around me saw me as a great success, and maybe I was.

I continued to the end of my five-year program and finished in high esteem. I was able to get into the institute’s graduate school directly out of undergraduate—a feat that was fondly spoken of. This route promised a secure, successful future. This pedestal was very, very high.

And would you believe me if I said I jumped off?

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In front of Beijing Broadcasting Institute.

Well, I’ve been known to make decisions—lofty decisions—on a moment’s notice. I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new during my first year of graduate school, and even more, no one was really in the mood for academia. The 1989 Tian’anmen Square protests burst out, causing the streets to be flooded by student-led groups—leaving classrooms bare. So, I decided to drop out, which seemed to be a crazy idea. A master’s degree was a huge deal in 1980s’ China, let alone one from the best school of its kind.

I went to ask my father, who was then working in Zhuhai, a southern city, and guess what he said?

“Sure, go ahead and quit, and come to me.”

His words echoed the voice in my heart. The college officials, however, told me I wasn’t allowed to quit and refused to release my paperwork—documents that were crucial to my legal identity. Ha! I had met fear years ago, and this wasn’t as fearful. I simply packed and left.

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3 | Off I Went

Shortly after leaving graduate school in 1989, I arrived in Zhuhai. I met up with my father, who encouraged me to go on to a nearby city, Shenzhen, to seek opportunities. With me, myself, and my little suitcase, I went, and soon found a job as an interpreter at a technology company.

Oh—and I should probably mention that around this time, I legally married my boyfriend in order for him to gain access to Shenzhen, as the city was a Special Economic Zone in China at that time which needed a special pass for one to enter. A family member of someone who was already in the zone could be issued a pass. I got mine through my father, while my boyfriend had to marry me in order to get the pass. He joined me in Shenzhen a while later.

In the new city, I was immersed in a young and vigorous atmosphere. Living here made it clear that I belonged in the beat of a place full of life and energy. The stark contrast from this coastal city to the inland of China also showed me how beautiful my father’s progressive spirit truly was—all who were here were more like him, and by nature, vibrant.

I need to mention that back in the last year of my undergraduate, I had applied to universities in the US to further my education. I always longed for new adventures, but unfortunately, I did not receive the amount of scholarship I needed. I did request that the schools keep me for consideration in case any financial aids became available. Now that I was living in such a progressive place, my urge to see the outside world was stronger than ever.

Finally, after working in Shenzhen for a whole year, I got an admission letter from Ohio University offering me a full ride. Off I went.

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4 | Just a Phone Call

At university, I began to feel at home. I took a two-year program and graduated with two master’s degrees. While I almost panicked with the stress of finding a job as graduation approached, I eventually received a few offers and decided to work for a company in Cincinnati, Ohio. I guess the terror didn’t eat me alive after all.

You must be wondering where my husband was at this point. Well, he joined me in the US during my second year of school. It was then we realized that we had grown so different, so apart—though, it didn’t come as a surprise since our marriage was initiated so that he could get a special pass to Shenzhen! We laugh as we talk about it now. Regardless, we remained married for the time being, and he went off to chase opportunities in New York.

So, after graduating in 1993, I moved to Cincinnati with all I could fit in my 1987 Ford Taurus.

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Graduation day at Ohio University, 1993.

Upon arriving, I unpacked my car, box by box, into my little apartment. When I got to the final box with my hunky Windows computer, it wouldn’t budge. If I hadn’t realized I was alone before, it was obvious then. My thin arms were no match for this symbol of dependence. I left the box and went inside to call the leasing office. After assuring the lady on the call that no, I could not afford to hire a moving company, I was told there was another Chinese family in the apartment complex that might help.

I made the call and went to wait by my car. During the wait, a young neighbor boy passing by offered to help, so naturally, I led him inside. After the boy left and I had unpacked several boxes, I heard a knock at the door and I rushed to the peephole.

I caught a glimpse of a man with jet-black hair. I opened the door to meet who was supposed to be my helper. We made rushed introductions—he was married and lived in an apartment nearby. He was kind and cordial. With those few minutes of a simple conservation, I somehow got the impression that he was a man with lots of business sense and a very hard-working attitude. But after that day, I thought very little of the tiny portrait of his jet-black hair.

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In my little apartment in Cincinnati.

A few months later, winter had settled in, and unfortunately, my car had not taken a liking to it. On a couple of mornings as I twisted my key to hear a screeching, I had no choice but to call my Chinese neighbor, the one with jet-black hair, and he offered to give me a ride to work.

A few more months went by. One day, surprisingly, my neighbor called and gave me his new phone number. I asked if they’d moved and bought their own home. He told me he was divorced and had moved to a different place in town, but could still help if I needed it.  Hmm! On impulse, I made the first move a few weeks later—I remember inviting him to a movie, and it was one of the most stupid movies I had ever seen…but the date went well, and thus began our story.

My ex-husband had been back in China for months. I decided not to file the final divorce paper until he was sure he would not want to come back to the US anymore. This way, I gave him a chance in case he would change his mind and I could still bring him back and then file the divorce paper. Several months later, he told me that he would not return to the US, so we officially divorced. My neighbor—that hardworking and smart young man—and I started dating.

One day, about two years later, I went to see a doctor as I was having problems with my periods. The doctor broke the news: I was pregnant. I called my boyfriend from the hospital and told him. I could almost hear his smile mingled with a little nervousness, all attached to his response, “Well, let’s get married.”

There was no proposal, no getting down on one knee, just a phone call with a hint of promise; I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man. In April of 1996, we officially got married.

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We did not have a wedding—not even a real wedding photo. Our friends gave us this frame as a wedding gift with our names and the date we got married inscribed on it. Later I just put our baby photos in the frame—thus, a wedding photo!

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5 | At the End of Every Journey

By October of that year, I had a new husband and a new baby girl. A couple of years later, we had our second daughter. Now that my husband and I have been living our lives in the US, things have settled. The ups and downs of life are not so jolting.

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My young family.

I follow—I have always followed—the voice in my heart. This voice seeks adventure, though it is sometimes impulsive and may not always be right. I often joke that I plan my trips, but not my life. Yet, I always try all I could to make the best of this moment and move on and up. As I look back, I see an amazing journey of fear and hope, struggles and victories, tears and smiles, and, of course, laughter. Lots of laughter.

At the end of each journey, there is a moment of pause—be it a second or a year—that is promptly followed by the question: do we start another? Always, always, I answer, “Yes.”

 

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This is the story of Diana Zhang

Diana currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband. She was born in Nanjing, China and grew up during the Cultural Revolution, a difficult time for the country when people were getting imprisoned often for improbable reasons. Her father was one of the detained, and she discusses how this news affected her at the young age of six. A child recovering from the horrors she’d seen, Diana focused on getting educated and creating a good life for herself. She came to the US in the early 1990s to further her education, found a husband, and settled down. Her greatest inspiration is her father who helped give her the confidence to build a wonderful future.

Diana has two daughters, Julie and Brooke. She has watched her beautiful girls become strong young women, and have shared with them her own stories (though she tells them not to marry for the reason she did with her first husband!). Diana currently works as a real estate agent in Georgia. Additionally, Diana is learning to play the piano at the time of this story’s publication.

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Diana with her family, 2017.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on December 5, 2017.

| Writer: Colleen Walker | Editor: MJ |

3 thoughts on “Each and Every Journey

  1. A touching story. As a History teacher in Secondary schools in Papua New Guinea, this real life situation story has indeed added much flavour to real living situation under the regeime of autocracy in China. A living situatiion indeed with the suppression around and a strong will power to a hope of a bright dream. The story in all its dark spot give credit to the invaluable journey through EDUCATION. As a teacher, this strory tells me to see and take my proffession as the most liberating agent in the world today. It is like the natural guiding star out in the open sea the sets one on a path to find safety.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Francis! We will pass your comment along to our storyteller. Meanwhile, we would like to thank you for your perspective and passion for your work. Many, many people (myself included) have changed their stars through the support of their teachers. We so appreciate your calling.

      There are two other stories that you may find interesting: “The Waves of the Mekong River” and “The Will to Survive.” Happy reading!

      Like

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