Thursday, June 4, 2009


A few years ago, while I was on fellowship in Boston, I decided to brush up on my Mandarin-Chinese speaking skills. I found a woman from China, a doctor, on Craigslist who had also recently moved to the city, and began a language exchange. Once a week, we'd meet in Cambridge and converse: 45 minutes in English, 45 in Chinese. We'd talk about mundane topics -- involving words that I could pronounce with ease -- and not necessarily things that were really on my mind. For example, "I am having a nervous breakdown trying to understand synthesizing a chemical compound, namely from a Mexican root plant, into an anabolic steroid" was not one of them.

One evening, we met at the Barnes and Noble cafe in Harvard Square. After multiple sessions talking about weekend plans, the orange line to JP, and, like, siblings, I decided to venture onto more trenchant subject matter. I asked her what she knew of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In 1989, she was just a child, maybe in high school, and lived in a city far from Beijing. She recalled it as barely a blip in the news -- certainly nothing of too much note, some students causing trouble. I was incredulous, though at the same time, having studied contemporary Chinese history during undegrad, not. But surely, I pressed, she'd seen the internationally famous "Tank Man" image. She didn't know what I was talking about. I became obsessed, and led her down to the history aisle. I pulled book upon book from the shelves. Totally futile. Sweaty and nauseous from the effort, I finally gave up and we parted, with the implicit understanding that we'd meet again the following week.

The next day, I pulled a link from the Internet and prepared to forward her the image. But somehow, I couldn't hit send. It's hard to explain why I suddenly decided to become a willing accomplice in covering up a shame of such magnitude. Perhaps I just didn't want to rip her from her bliss. In the end, you can't pull or push someone else into facing life's harsh truths, and certainly not inside an anemic Barnes and Noble. We never met again.

For those who aren't afraid, here it lies.

And here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tanks man, I appreciate this.