At the Root

Over the last few weeks I’ve gone through old photos, started reading journals I wrote when I was younger and writing my memories down when I can. It’s tough to reflect on the past, when there are so many different perspectives depending how who you talk to about it.

Cover of "Factory Girls: From Village to ...
Cover via Amazon

After reminiscing with relatives  and helping my brother with his sociology paper about a subject very close to both of our hearts, I’ve learned that there’s more to the past than what one mind remembers. My memory, for instance, is very sense-oriented, smells and images are particularly poignant for me. For others it’s dialogue or feelings. It all depends on the individual.

I think that’s what makes history so fascinating. I’m starting to see how hard it is to collect the facts, time line and details of my childhood, can you imagine what it’s like for a nation inhabited with millions?

For instance, in the book, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Leslie T. Chang reports on the conditions of migrant women workers in Dongguan, China — one of the world’s largest producers of goods. She explores the city, culture and history of China through the young women she meets who are seeking their fortunes outside of their rural homes and away from family.

Chang investigates and writes these sub-histories to begin to explain a broader context of the country.  She does this with elegance and curiosity. I particularly like seeing how her own family history interweaves with the story, giving a background of Communism and her family’s hardship when they emigrated to Taiwan.

The anecdotes from the women shows the essence of human experience mixed in with nuggets of Chinese culture that would be difficult to explain. The way a woman dresses, or how she introduces herself are all indicators of this long history before her. Each story becomes the root of the history of Dongguan, women in China, or simply, people with a dream.

For anyone interested in reading a good non-fiction book with subtly provocative prose, check out Factory Girls to be inspired by the simplicity of a woman’s journey from the roots of her home, to the tenuous branches of her future.

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Any Writer’s Dream

My Toxic Futileness

February 27, 2008

Seven weeks have passed.  March will soon blossom like the marigolds in the home-stay garden.  The weather is warm and pleasant, like a soft hand on my shoulder.  In Jaipur, inspiration lies behind every shopkeeper’s smile and rickshaw peddler’s wince as he carts a portly woman on her cell phone.  And yet, there are days when I feel like the ink well is dry.

Why aren’t I bursting with article ideas or short story manuscripts?  Wasn’t the relief of completing school and the interim period before paying my student loans supposed to provide freedom to write?  During my 5-month Indian adventure I was supposed to be infected with unsurpassed creativity, not an intestinal parasite and self-dissatisfaction.  All motivation went down the toilet when stomach pains, dizziness and nausea entered my daily life.  Not to mention constant distractions from home-stay staff. 

If they aren’t calling me from the next room to ask if I’ve eaten, they are requesting that I leave the room to be cleaned – even if it was cleaned yesterday.  I don’t need my towels washed every day.  It’s especially irritating when they insist on washing them after complaining the night before about the meager allocation of potable water from the government.

I’ve even come to dislike the sound of my room’s telephone ring.  In fact, every telephone in Jaipur sounds the same.  It’s as if everyone has the same phone and no matter where I am, the high pitched sound reminds me that my tidy room needs to be cleaned.

I guess Virginia Woolf was wrong about what a woman needs to write.  One needs money, a room and quiet.

Now, I could be looking for an excuse for my lack of writing.  I’ve had weeks to settle in and accommodate myself to this new way of life.  And the biweekly foray into fetal position inducing stomach pains should be just something to accept.  But I’m not one to sit and watch the days go by until June. 

I know!  I could apply for a job.  Oh, right, I already tried that. 

Maybe I should volunteer to help the girls in the house learn English – tried that too.

Atleast I have my volunteer work with the PEARL World Youth News and my online copy-editing course with MediaBistro.  Last week’s copy-editing assignment was about writing headlines.

Here are two headlines I’ve come up with:
“Sick Journalist Can’t Stomach Foreign Travels”
“Fiancé Dumps Spineless Would-Be Writer”

Back to the point, isn’t this every writer’s dream, the chance to have 5 days a week to write whatever he or she wants with weekends to travel?  I’ve tried drafting schedules for myself; relaxing; reading literature; working out; meeting people; viewing cultural exhibits; etc.  Nothing urges me to put fingers to keyboard.  I have ideas when I walk or while I’m on the treadmill at the gym, but by the time I reach my computer screen only five words come to mind: I want to go home.  It’s pathetic.  Hopefully, the peace conference I’m covering in March will end this bout of writer’s block and “futileitis” infection.

Until then, I’ll try sitting in the garden again.  Let the breeze wash over me as birds play in their bath, cars honk, people shout and my stomach grumbles.