Yin Chi waited in the narrow corridor outside his parent’s ninth floor apartment. His knock stirred activity inside, and he could hear the rustle of moving slippers. His mother opened the door. She smiled and stepped aside to let him pass in front of her. She hadn’t been home long from her military job and was still dressed in her army captain’s uniform. It made her appear ridged and exact. The slippers created a contrast against the appearance of precision.
“Come in, come in,” she said. She was clearly surprised by his visit, but pleased. Chi was her second son, the lucky son. He had been born two years before the government mandate of one child per family. Though the ban had been difficult, most citizens realized the pressure of over population and as a result, there were now three billion less Chinese.
Chi was married and had given her a second grandson. His older brother had a son as well. Either family could have another child, if they were willing to pay the rather large fine. There was talk of allowing two children, but that was only talk. For now, she was pleased that she had two grandchildren where others in her generation had only one. The pleasures of a granddaughter often crossed her mind, but she knew better than to dwell on greedy thoughts. It was not the Party way; it would not serve the common good.
“I have a story to share with you.” She saw the twinkle in his eye.
“First sit down, sit down,” she said. “I have just started some water for chi. I’m trying a new mixture, silver needle white tea. Good for wrinkles or was it the memory? Never mind. Do you want some or would you rather have a soda?”
“I’ll try your new tea.”
He followed her to the kitchen and watched as she prepared another bowl for him. His eyes spread across the familiar living area, a composite of kitchen, dining, and family room. The apartment was a generous and spacious nine hundred forty square feet. The three bedrooms and a western style toilet were out of his view. His grandmother had lived in one of the rooms before her death a few years ago. Now it was just his parents living here. Both he and his brother were fortunate enough to afford their own apartments.
The walls were sparsely decorated. A large portrait of Mao hung in the center of the wall, outlined in red ribbons. Each morning on his way to work, Chi passed the great leader’s tomb in Tiananmen Square. Without fail, a line of people had already formed, some waiting for as many as five hours just for a few seconds glimpse of his tomb. It didn’t matter if it was snowing, raining, or in the heat of the summer. His father often repeated, “He is The George Washington of China. He brought all people into one great nation.”
Next to the portrait, a small glass case held military plaques and commendations with both parent’s names. On one of the shelves was a decorative tea service and on a third shelf a small framed pictures of the two sons, their wives and two grandsons. Larger framed pictures stood off to the side. One was of his mother in her captain’s uniform and the other of his father in his general’s uniform. They met as young soldiers serving in the Revolutionary Communist Party. Their marriage arranged by the military.
Though her two sons had not become members of the Communist Party as her husband and she would have wished, they were pleased with their positions. Both had done very well. Chi was the manager of the Jingjjiang hotel in downtown Beijing. He always had great stories to share with the family, but never one just for her. “He must have left work early. He never comes this early for a visit,” she thought. Something to celebrate? Maybe, something wrong?
She braced herself for bad news.
After serving the chi and a plate of sweets, she said, “Now tell me this story of yours.”
He began: It was early evening. The hotel was quiet. A group of American tourists had left that morning and another group wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. So I wandered around the hotel, checking on things before leaving early. I walked into the restaurant. It was empty except for the servers and an old grandmother sitting by herself. She had just finished eating; her chopsticks resting on the side of her plate. She was waiting for her chi. I noticed her face, wrinkled and dry. The look of someone used to working in the sun. I thought maybe she might be from one of the western providences. I was right.
I nodded to her. She nodded back and then waved her hand at me to join her. My eyes caught the shine of a lovely jade bracelet. It was lodged in the middle part of her arm, where her skin sagged loosely from the bone. The color of the bracelet drew me to her.
Curious, I sat down and asked her about her unusual jade bracelet.
“I wear it for protection.” Her eyes sparkled. “I traveled from my home in the western providence to buy this bracelet. By myself, I traveled by train, alone. I bought this from a place not too far from here, outside of Beijing. I‘m here to celebrate my good fortune.,” she said.
“A simple bracelet, even one that is as beautiful as yours, is only a bracelet, nothing more. It’s made out of a stone, cut and polished but just a stone. The jade has no power. I mean no disrespect but a bracelet, even a jade bracelet, can’t give you protection.” I said.
“Well, yes, you might think that. But I don’t.” One of the waiters placed a tea service in front of her. At her invitation, I shared a cup with her.
“I had another one, another jade bracelet. It had been passed down to me by my mother after she died. Her mother had given it to her and on and on the story goes for many generations.”
She made an approving slurping sound as she drank her tea. I answered with another slurp.
“You see I was wearing it during the earthquake. You may have heard of it. It shook our village savagely. It was the middle of the day. M y son and his wife were working; I was feeding my grandson. Suddenly everything started shaking and things began falling around us. I grabbed my grandson and pushed him under the table with me. I covered him with my body. The walls caved in and part of the roof collapsed overhead. Finally the shaking stopped. Unbelievably, we were alive. Our bodies were lodged into a tiny space under the table.
The top had been split into two pieces but falling beams had collided on top of each other forming a protective barrier above us. A pile of rubble and huge pieces of broken walls rested on top of those beams. I looked up and saw cracks and splinters but they held. Only the sand dust escaped and fell over our bodies.
It was only then that I looked down at my bracelet. I cried out in alarm. It had been shattered into many pieces, but then I realized, it had protected me, protected me and most importantly, my grandson. We were safe. Even though we were buried inside all that rubble, I was able to call for help and both of us were rescued. Not a broken bone or scratch on either one of us.”
She paused to see my reaction. “So you see, I had to come to Beijing and buy a new jade bracelet.” She twisted it around her arm. “If your mother doesn’t have a jade bracelet, then you should buy her one; buy her one for protection.” She saw his hesitation. “What harm could it do? And I might just be right.”
“At first I tried to dismiss her story as just that, a story. An old women’s story full of superstition. But as I thought about her words, I decided that it certainly wouldn’t harm anything. It might be nice for you to have a jade bracelet to wear.” He smiled.
He pulled out a small paper bag from his pocket and took out a silk bag. He handed it to her. She untied the delicate ribbon-like strings and found herself staring at a striking jade bracelet. “I can’t wear this,” she stated flatly. Clearly flustered she added, “I can’t, no I won’t wear something based on false notions and old ways. Superstitions! Wearing this bracelet is no different than accepting the binding of women’s feet or selling young girls into unhappy marriages. These are the old Chinese ways, not the new Chinese ways. You, of all people know these things.”
He didn’t offer to take it back, but merely left it on the table. He smiled to himself. Jewelry was one of her weaknesses. Finally she agreed to keep the bracelet, but wouldn’t wear it until she retired. ”I might wear it, but not because of such superstitious foolishness. I will keep it only because it is a gift from you.” She placed it back into the silk bag and then into the box.
Several years passed and finally she did retire. Yin Chi’s noticed the jade bracelet resting on her wrist many times. She smiled at him when he noticed.
At the next Spring Festival, his parents invited the families over to celebrate with them in their apartment. His mother spent several days preparing traditional Chinese foods. On the morning of the celebration, she was finishing the filling for the jiaozi, a flour based pastry.
As she prepared the chestnuts, she realized that she didn’t have enough to finish the filling. Since it was early in the day, she decided to ride her bike the short distance to the market. The fresh brisk air would be healthy and besides the store was close. She didn’t want to waste petrol by taking the car. It had just snowed that morning, but the surfaces of the road and sidewalks were soft and crunchy.
No problem, she thought. She took her bike down the elevator. Once outside, she climbed easily onto the bike in one swift motion and rode off in the direction of the market. She had‘t gone very far when she hit a hidden patch of slick, frozen ice. She found herself tumbling through the air and landing hard on her wrist.
“I must have broken a bone, she thought. Amazingly as she lifted her body off of the ground, she didn’t feel any pain. Instead the impact of the fall had been absorbed by her jade bracelet. She stared at it. It lay under the twisted bike frame, broken into tiny fragments.
Just then a neighbor happened to pass by, saw her fly off the bike and land on the ground. He ran to her. “Mrs. Yin, are you all right? Don’t try to stand up.” He took off his coat and laid it on the ground and motioned her to sit on it.
“Yes, yes, I seem to be just fine.” She felt her arms and legs for broken bones, again. Nothing seemed broken and the only blood was from a couple of scratches on her arms.
She collected her thoughts. “Could you call my son, Yin Chi? He is the closest and has a car nearby his work.” She handed him her cell phone. In less than a minute he was talking with Yin Chi.
“Tell him I’m fine. Not a scratch or a bruise,” she said.
He repeated what she had said. “He wants to speak with you.”
“I’m fine, really. Yes I’ll call the doctor,” She answered her son. ” My neighbor can help me into the lobby and wait with me until you get here.” He nodded yes to her questioning glance. Then she paused for a few seconds before continuing softly, “My jade bracelet is broken. It’s broken into pieces; it’s ruined. I must have fallen on it.”
There was silence on the other end.
“Chi, my son, I will need another jade bracelet.”
“I would be honored to buy you a new one,” he bowed over the phone and smiled.
Ann Marie Bezayiff received her BA and MEd from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is an author, blogger, columnist and speaker. Her columns, “From the Olive Orchard” and “Recycled Recipes from Vintage Boxes”, appear in newspapers, newsletters and on Internet sites. Ann Marie has also demonstrated her recipes on local television. Currently she divides her time between Western Maryland and Texas.