Personal Writing: An-Yang

"Shua-nging!" (Children!) The sound of her strident voice reverberates down
the narrow stairwell. I remember that musty, dark, winding stairwell that led
to her second floor apartment in Glendale as vividly as I did the day I
established a meaningful relationship with my grandmother. Through this
relationship, I have come to know her as a friend, a confidante, and lastly, a
woman I admire.

I was only seven at the time, and the only thing I cared about was the fact that
my grandmother spoke in a very loud and grating voice, and that she kept on
patting my hand (which annoyed me to no end). My grandparents are separated- my
grandfather lives with us, while she lives in a separate apartment by herself in
Glendale. My family and I used to eat lunch at her house every week. I
remember trudging up the dank, squeaky stairs with my siblings, yelling "An-
yang!!"(grandmother) all the way. She would yell in a similar fashion "Ah!
Shua- nging!" (ah, children!) Smells of old-fashioned Shanghainese cooking
would assail my senses, as my mouth watered in anticipation of the savories to

One particular afternoon, after we had finished eating, we draped ourselves
around her living room. I was sitting on a dilapidated couch, whose colors were
made indiscernible by time, and was looking around her room. My gaze swept from
the thin, worn carpet, bare in some places, to the scarred wooden dresser, to a
dirty doll with an eye missing. (My grandmother could never bear to throw
anything away). She came and sat down next to me, taking my hand in hers. The
tight braid at the nape of her neck was coming undone. Wisps of thick black
hair framed her square face. I looked down at the contrast between our hands- my
hand was unblemished, pale and smooth, while her hand was mottled with age spots,
tanned, and leathery. She started to pat my hand in the most annoying fashion,
while telling me how large my feet were. I was somewhat surprised, because I
had always been told that my feet were rather small for my size.

Then I saw her feet.

Her feet were deformed and incredibly stunted. Her toes grew in a peculiar
fashion, and none of them were straight. I had seen toddler shoes in the
doorway when I arrived, but I assumed they were my old baby shoes. I now
realized that they were HER shoes! All in all, it was the most horrendous sight
I had ever seen.

I thought that foot binding had ceased a long time ago in China. At the age of
seven, I was filled with righteous anger at a society that had forced young
girls to conform to societal standards. I remember being shocked that day,
wondering why I had never noticed my grandmother\'s feet before, and why no one
else had ever pointed them out to me.

Throughout her childhood, she labored in the rice fields of Shanghai. She moved
to the States in her late sixties. After my grandparents separated, she moved
to her apartment in Glendale. At the age of 88, she cooks for herself, cleans
her apartment, does needlework, and maintains her own garden. Just this past
summer, she had a stroke. I was again astounded by her tenacity and her drive to
live. She was out of the hospital in only a week.

Now, every time I visit her, I check to make sure that her feet have not grown
even smaller. I have an irrational fear that one day, her feet will dwindle
away. But they no longer instill feelings of revulsion in me- they are a living
testimony of the hardships she endured- and a life that I have never experienced.
So I sit patiently and let her pat my hand, knowing full well that we still
have much to learn from each other.

Category: English