Digital Chinese Take Out for the Expat's SoulPosts RSS Comments RSS

Coffee

In the 1970’s I was tasked by the military to teach medics the stages of grief written about and popularized by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Disbelief, Anger, Denial and Acceptance are all part and parcel of loss and Ross gave us a viable way to understand emotions in confusing circumstances. Some counselors and friends through the years have used them as a way to help mourners and disease sufferers cope as they journey through tragedy. But, sometimes…

I am not ashamed to admit that I have been stuck in anger of late about many losses that have occurred around me and concerning the pain and difficulties of my own condition. No news or change of status has affected me more profoundly lately than that of “Coffee.”

Huang Cui Xiang, Coffee’s real name in print for the first time as I promised to protect her anonymity , was a saint long before she became ill–as you will read below.

I am reside emotionally and mentally in the hospital where I  saw her battling heat, pain and worry: She was not fretting about her disease, she was concerned about her studies. She had spread her school books on her bed and took every free moment she was not debilitated by chemotherapy to read her lessons. She was determined to graduate on time with her class.

That was two years ago. She carried her books up and down long flights of stairs (no place in China is well equipped for anyone handicapped) and developed a strong walk and great endurance despite an ill-fitted and heavy artificial leg. She took extra classes, enrolled in an off-campus French language translators course donated by one of her school’s most caring foreign teachers, performed an internship at HSBC bank and did, as she intended, graduate with her peers.

The cancer fought back over the last two years and six months ago Coffee’s cancer resurfaced  and she returned home to continue the fight. But in recent weeks the disease spread to her lungs and she was rendered unable to speak. She did text message several times.

Many people wanted to rescue her emotionally and, with good intentions, they would send her new cancer fighting recipes and words of wisdom and encouragement. Coffee, who was already resigned to the inevitable, simply replied, “It is too late for that.”

Her last communication, just days before I had planned to visit her at her home in Yingde, China was simply, “Goodbye.” She died last week. The message was Coffee’s last lesson for me– and one she had been trying to teach all along with a smile on her face and never a bad word to be said about anyone or anything: Take life on life’s terms and give your all to every moment of it in pursuit of something you cherish.

I know she is gone, and I accepted long ago Coffee might leave sooner than she should, but I am still angry. I am angry at myself for not doing more to help her, angry that I was not able to see her before she left and angry that I don’t feel the world is a better place because she was here– Coffee was forced out much too soon…

Coffee, rest in the same peace you knew even in adversity.

n665639898_1806419_1680

My first post after hearing of Coffee’s illness:

I went to the hospital a few weeks ago to visit one of five of my students afflicted with cancer this last year. And my heart hurts since returning.

A former student called me to ask if I remembered another classmate nicknamed “Coffee.” Of course I remembered the 1/500 treasure: A delightful girl with a fervor for learning, who had been a second year English major in the school where I taught. I try to remember most of my students, but Coffee was easy: She often emailed me with serious questions about cultural issues and after several meetings, at her request, we changed her English name to one, at the time, we thought better suited a Business English major. I later felt I was wrong and, unlike other students and associates that I address by their Chinese, I have never called Coffee by the new name I foisted on her.

And I remembered that pretty young Coffee came from a poor rural family and had an older brother and sister. It was this knowledge that especially dismayed me when I was told that she had been diagnosed with bone cancer. I knew instantly that not only would she suffer ostracism associated with being handicapped in China–It it is an enormous social burden that she would not be able to afford to lighten–but the costs would prevent treatment that could help minimize her disability in this difference-vigilant culture. Her father, aware of the same, took more than half a day to accede to the surgeons requests for a consent form to remove Coffee’s leg. He thought it might be better to let Coffee die rather than face shunning for a disability.

It takes no special education to know there is shame and hardship ahead for his daughter and family. Please don’t judge him harshly. He loves his daughter and has already invested his life’s savings to see her through three years of college. He is back at home while Coffee’s mother must pay a daily fee to maintain all an day and night vigil at the hospital. They live two hours and many, many years away from China’s third largest metropolis.

The hospital was without air conditioning and in desperate need of paint and renovation, but I knew that even this questionable house of healing was more than she could afford. I met her mother, a woman who has obviously labored hundreds of long days under the sun, and immediately knew that finances were going to the biggest single factor in Coffee’s treatment and recovery. And worse yet, the hospital’s worn facade was a metaphor for the growing disparity between rich and poor in China that has enmeshed Coffee and her family–and just at a time when they had hoped to improve their station in life through school. The rich are living, and living well, while the poor are dying for want of health care. Coffee was smiling and genuinely optimistic during our meeting. She could already navigate, on crutches, the area from her bed to the common television alcove down the bleak corridor. Her leg was removed only two weeks ago, but Coffee is far ahead of the healing curve. I am told that Coffee attended class up until two days before her scheduled surgery and today she shared, in confident and relaxed English, that she intends to go back to college next semester even if it is during her chemotherapy. I believe her. The school, with no handicapped accessibility, no air conditioning, overcrowded dorms and mind-numbing class schedules, is all she thinks about. She will finish college even if her post-graduate chances for good paying work have been diminished. If I could have bottled one-tenth of one-percent of the courage that issued from her today I could sell it and fund a cure for her disease. But, the best anyone has been able to do so far is take up a collection for her at school: Her classmates, no better off financially, have raised about $600 USD for her care. She is still several thousand short of what she will need for a manageable new leg alone. It is with great sadness that I announce another courageous soul will join the League of Extraordinary Chinese Women. I gave that title to a group of women who met during chemotherapy and have intuitively done health and healing in the face of HER2 breast cancer with bravery and even laughter: they watch sunrise together, meet for tea and inspiration and helped each other through hard times with meager resources, but hopeful hearts.

Cancer Journal,China Cartoons,China Editorials,Digital Cavalry,The League of Extraordinary Chinese Women,The Unsinkable Ms Yue

8 responses so far

Found and Still Lost

I first met Shannon during a poetry reading shortly after my first book came out some two decades ago. I later reviewed her first collection of verse and stayed in touch through the years with the sexy, sassy, southern and broadly gifted artist. I last saw Shannon on a business trip down south in the 90’s. She was showing signs of some encroaching malady and I heard people whispering “anorexia,” “bulimia,” “drugs” and worse about the quirky, but elegantly well-centered soul who loved Carrie Bradshaw-ish designer shoes–when her face was not spackled with paint.

She was having slight difficulty with her walking, talking and balance and I missed many of the clues as we were then in the midst of pulling off a daring PR stunt to try and rescue her from impending financial hardship. She faced a huge bill for unsold pottery and jewelry shortly after her boyfriend, who ran a large and lucrative rep’ group that also sold her art, “wandered a bit” and quit selling her work shortly after she left him a permanent stray “on account of his infidelity.”

She lamented to me one day that she wished she could rid herself of a conscience so she could hand the bank note, half owned by her ex-boyfriend, back to the vindictive philanderer. I suggested we sell her conscience on EBay with a certificate of authenticity neatly folded inside a jeweled bag she would design. EBay tolerated the ruse long enough for Shannon to receive calls from morning drive shows and newspapers worldwide–the BBC in Dublin found it particularly amusing. I do not remember how successful we were, but I remember how much fun we had during her 15 minutes of fame. And, for the record, I doubt she would have really abandoned her conscience to a stranger for something as cheap as revenge.

Shannon eventually righted herself  all but physically. The last note I received from her said she had been confined to a wheelchair and was learning to perform simple, everyday tasks again. But, phone numbers no longer worked and emails bounced back to me. I had lost her and on top of the guilt we wandering expats feel when those we love are far away and in trouble, I feared for the worst–despite knowing that she would be no easy match for the brain tumor the doctors could not operate to remove.

This week I found an obscure reference to her on the 9thstlab Blog. It was poetry about her condition that was written by her while in a hospital in Alabama. The poems are from 2007, but I strongly sense she is alive and fighting well somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.

she has always been open, public and unabashed about her situations in life, good and worrisome. so, I wanted to share the work I found, but am hoping that if she reads this that I do not end up the reason for a new sale item on an auction site for IP theft of her poetry ;-).

It is powerful stuff Ms Smith and deserves to be read, as much as you deserve health and happiness.

From the blog:

Shannon Smith is a visual artist living in Birmingham Alabama. Recently she was diagnosed with AVM – Arterio veinous malformations, a rare form of brain tumor. In Shannon’s case the tumor is inoperable. The treatment for the embolism is even more painful than the tumor itself. The combination of illness and treatment has rendered her unable to work in her usual mediums, but she has been strong enough to write poetry about her experience. She is under the care of physicians at the medical center at the University of Alabama in Birmingham – a research hospital and one of the best in the country.

TWELVE BLANKETS FOR MY BRAIN

After the surgeons have
rearranged my head,
they become concerned
about my body temperature
at eighty six degrees. It is strange,
because I do not feel cold, only empty.
Nurses bring one blanket after another
wrapping me up tightly. I feel warm
but trapped and weighted down like
swimming with my clothes and shoes on.

Two more blankets
added to the pile-
Now I am just tangled like
A fish in a fishing net not knowing which way is up
or out. My voice trapped under layers of thick cotton.
And when I reach the numeric definition of normal, I do
not feel different or normal, mostly just trapped.
Tucked in, but no bedtime story.
I picture myself escaping from the hospital;
sliding in my socks on the shiny floors,
running down the halls,
riding elevators ,
waving to other patients.
My blankets alone in a pile on the floor.

LOOKING FOR WHAT IS LEFT

The darkness is back,
hovering over this crumpled body
where waves of pain call home.
The blackness has become opaque now
Not even outlines of the everyday.

Morphine, Fetanyl, Sekanol- hello lovers.
I hide as I swallow nails.
The shutters bang against windows.
It is too late for prayer.
Lightning cracks the night sky
shattering my skull
on the zipper of scars,
one stitch at a time.

Sleep will never find me here.
The warden of pain shakes his keys
at my cage. These are not the tears of heartbreak-
much too salty, much too free.

This darkness is heavy and suffocating
like a fishing net with weights.
If I am here tomorrow,
I will go look for myself
kicking bones out of the way,
to see what is left

Shannon Smith

Much love from China, SSlola

Uncategorized

No responses yet

New and Selected Poems: “After Being Asked” and “Soundtrack”

When I passed through LAX customs yesterday I was asked the same question I suppose the immigration folks are trained to ask in cases like mine: “Why have you been in China so long?” Each time I have to resist the urge to render witty or acerbic comebacks–especially after 17 hours of travel next to some high-strung, dialect-limited Chinese emigrant from Guangxi on his first plane flight. But, I digress…

My answer must seem odd to those civil servants who used to hearing one-word responses like: “Business,” Visit,” Coming home,”  or “Job Hunting.” I reply, “fulfilling a promise. I am seeing someone through a long bout with cancer.”

Ms Yue has outlived many of her chemotherapy friends. If you knew her, you’d understand that her natural talent for befriending anyone, from the local trash collector to a head of security in her district, ensures that there are never strangers in her life. She had met them in the hospital annex next to where where she had her surgery performed. She is the last of the League of extraordinary Chinese as I came to call them. They learned from Yue how to embrace the life left to them with meditation, companionship, spiritual supplications and long conversation and rich laughter over inexpensive cups of Chinese tea.

SOUNDTRACK

I am still listening

When the agitated syncope

Of thready heartbeats

Stop to amass a clap of thunder

Over crashing surf

And you fight the waves of fear

With a hand forged sword

And exhausted share tales of battle

With those who subside on phone calls

And weekend visits from half-hearted

Familial warriors lightly anchored to love

And when your body betrays you

In the ravenous silence

And you think you are

One impossibly simple syllable

Short  of a symphony

Remember the lullabies of the past

Conduct them into the present

Lay awash in the fragile swells of hesitancy

Compose mysterious reconciliations

And keep faith in the God of the metronome

Your friends are lucky to have you

Disarmed and hardly replenished

By the convenient half-loves

To which even tender siblings retreat

You survive by teaching through example

How to keep faith in wellness

And the will of the tides

The gift or accident of nature

That gave you ears for

And a comradery with

The roiling, the murmurs, the sobs

And the wicked playfulness of the ocean

And the weather it dares to rebuke…

for W.L. and Ms Yue

Ms Yue has long hidden her illness from Chinese friends. They are not as open about discussing cancer or life threatening disease like westerners. So, when it became evident that she would have do something cosmetically reduce the impact of the uneven loss of her hair and the endless looks of strangers afraid to ask why…

AFTER BEING ASKED TO CUT HER HAIR

When you called, yesterday evening

or the night before, I made the long walk

to you through the thick heat of Southern China,

flanked by our prostitute of a River:

Beautiful after dark, but only when flattered

by the exploitative light of tourist boats

I hated China that night

I found it especially hard to breathe:

It is always damned humid

and it reeks of smoke and poverty

and in the dim daylight reveals

a blinded sun, Guangzhou’s grey cataract

of a sky that, when it can see, ignores the whore–

the river again–

whose name no one can speak

with any longing in their voice

The water was unlined that night:

a corpse without worry as I prepared

a place in my memory

for what I would destroy perhaps forever:

the hair: forty-five years

of silk, glistening with the kisses

of an adoring mother and vigilant father

times in a China no longer missed

by those who have come to this low-waisted city

to find work and forget the darkeness

in which their friends, awake with temptation

in the darkness of their ancestral homes

just grow into unadorned

albeit long, and painless seniority

You asked to me conceal the evidence

of the waning of the infinite. You told me to cut

because I am foreign, from the west,

and know how to use a razor

to shave away history:

the perfect blackness, the magnificent

mystery of the history of moonlights, fires,

and wind that has run fingers

through the remembered and forgotten

“Love is so short, forgetting so long”

when it is a name like yours,

that you clutch deep in your throat

As strong as you are

will always be, and as proudly high

as have always held your head,

the quarrel with your body,

said the doctor–a white coated immigrant

from the North like yourself and too polite

to tell you or your family–the quarrel

will not always look this well

I addressed my selfish sorrow

in suffocated sobs to the still water

that confirmed my questions with silence

Uncategorized

No responses yet

Involver Social Application and Olympic Documentary Join Forces

Discovery Channel Director and Producer Siok Siok Tan has made her Boomtown Beijing Documentary available to us…

It is great News!

Click on the video buttons above or head to the first of two “Involver” applications we will use:

http://apps.new.facebook.com/boomtown_beijing/campaign_memberships/home?_fb_fromhash=0976618598b5aab8a5de78491bb00104

Help us beta test the application and do some good in the process. The Library Project, The Ms Yue Cancer Fund, The Reading Tub and Sichuan Volunteer Teachers will all benefit.

Sign onto the application and invite your group members and friends. Please investigate all aspects of the application and send me feedback as soon as you can. The top 10 recruiters will get 10 free hours of social media campaign consultation for free.

Please watch the trailer and do what you can to help make this a phenomenal success!

Thanks everyone!

Beijing Olympics,Cancer Journal,Charity in China,China Blog,China Charity Blogs,China Editorials,China films,China Olympics,China Search Engine Marketing,China SEO,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Faceboook,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues,Online Digital Marketing,Online Digital Marketing China,Seo China,Singapore,social media,The Internet,The League of Extraordinary Chinese Women

No responses yet

Warning: Unknown: open(/clfs/sessions/8/a/sess_8atq6jef903m1n2plvsdkh9uc1, O_RDWR) failed: No space left on device (28) in Unknown on line 0 Warning: Unknown: Failed to write session data (files). Please verify that the current setting of session.save_path is correct (2;/clfs/sessions) in Unknown on line 0