Slippers in the hallway – Jessica Chen

The city of Changsha (长沙市) does not ring a bell for most people. To Hong, it means home. The sound of her local dialect is like a waft of homemade pickled spicy radish jam or the quick cli­cking noise of the needles in her mother’s spotted hands, knitting her a welcome gift.

Hong was born in 1965 in China, in the coun­tryside of the pro­vince Hunan.
Her parents used to work on the fields and could not care as much for their children as they hoped to do. In hind­sight, she has been raised to depend on other people as little as pos­sible.
At the age of 14, she leaves her parent’s side for the final time. Moving to Hunan’s capital Changsha to go to school. In her life, she will have two more major moves ahead. The next one is when she enters work and gets her own place, and the third time is when she leaves home behind baby to come to Germany with a little baby.

Bad air

The decision to leave was not her own to make. Changsha used to be a major import and export junction and made it very attractive to work in the field of trading. Hong, like many of her col­leagues was hoping to expe­rience a life abroad, yearning for new perspectives.

Hong’s husband was working in the same field and already got sent to Germany five years prior. They married in China and had their first daughter there, but in between years, they were sepa­rated by miles and miles. To her, it was all bearable with the pro­spect of an already estab­lished home in Germany.

The fact that her husband was chosen to represent their company in Germany was a huge ack­now­led­gement of his work. Hong hoped that her company would reco­gnize her achie­ve­ments too. The boss only sent a few selected people abroad. This led to a lot of cor­ruption and bribes within the office. Although Hong hoped to be chosen by her superior, she knew that the game was not fair.

New chapter, same book

She even­tually was allowed to travel to Germany. Not because of her efforts, but because of friendship. Her husband met a German col­league, who was the age of their parents. She treated him like family and invited Hong and her daughter to claim their visa. In the years to come, Hong’s two daughters would be lucky enough to call two loving women their German „Omas“. In Chinese there is the phrase: “一见如故” (yi jian ru gu) that describes meeting someone for the first time and con­necting like old friends. This is what it felt like.

When their departure date had finally arrived, exci­tement was running through her veins. She was not scared; she had a foun­dation to start and a little baby she could promise the world. Saying goodbye to her parents was surely not easy, but she is aware that a lot of people envy her for this pri­vilege. Nonetheless, telling her story will always involve a lot of teardrops at airports. 

On the 13th of February 1993, Hong arrived in Hamburg. One hand clut­ching her one-year-old daughter, the other one holding one suitcase. Although ever­ything was new and foreign to her, moving across oceans is not a fault line in her life. Nothing broke on her way, it just changed, she insists.

Hong takes a lot of pride in her work. After coming to Hamburg, she quickly started her own Import and Export business and has been self-employed ever since.

Bitterness

To be the writer of your own success story brings a lot of respon­si­bility, and with it: hardships. Most Chinese people know what it means to expe­rience bit­terness in their lives. This taste is also familiar to Hong. Growing up in a Chinese household, „to eat bitter“ („吃苦“; chi ku) is a phrase that stays with you.

When she arrived in Germany, it was winter, and it felt grey and bitter cold. The first years were accom­panied by com­pro­mises and com­pa­risons. To this day, she remembers the selling rate of the Deutsche Mark.
One Chinese Ren Min Bi was about four Deutsche Mark that time. She would always compare the German price tags with the prices in Ren Min Bi, deciding that she was not worth spending that much money on new clothes. Even when she found nicer things to wear, they would not fit her. Her small figure only allowed her to wear children’s clothes. To be even more frugal, the two of them did not want to spend any money on going to the hair­dresser. They were saving up for a place of their own and could not arti­culate what they wanted at the salon anyway.

In that period, she often con­si­dered returning to the place she used to call home. Her mother knitted her a white sweater before she left for Germany. It hangs in her wardrobe and reminds her of how much she is missed. It took five years for her parents to visit her new home in Germany. They stayed for three months and had to go again, their slippers lined up in a row with hers in the hallway, as if they had just gone out for a walk. Completely unknowing of the fact that they would not return for years.

With time, she gained con­fi­dence and under­standing. Messenger Apps allowed her to fre­quently call her parents and sib­lings, which she now does almost every day. Her business sta­bi­lized and her daughters did not depend on her being phy­si­cally there anymore. So, she could travel across oceans into the arms of her family more often. She started to notice the blooming of flowers and the warmth of strangers. The cold she got accus­tomed to. She loves going to the Asian super­market to pick up some ingre­dients and compose them tog­ether until they sing of Changsha.

Today, there is nothing she regrets about migrating to Germany. Her moti­vation is to open new oppor­tu­nities for her and her daughters. She has achieved that: In Germany, she could have a second child, not restricted by the Chinese One-Child-Policy. Both her daughters did not have to deal with the aca­demic pressure within the Chinese edu­cation system.

Right now, she feels the proudest because she can see that everyone in her family is safe and healthy. This is what she values most. Hong will often stress how it is the result of per­se­verance and hard work.

It is not about belonging to one place, but to know where you came from and where you want to go. To her, that will be to Changsha, after the pan­demic is over. She has not been able to see her parents for over a year. This time she will make sure to stay longer.

To the strength and bravery of my mother. Thank you for showing us how to thrive in times of bit­terness. To many more stories about you and the voices of the Asian diaspora.

Teil des Projekts „Do(n’t) Ask, Do(n’t) Tell“
von kori­en­tation e.V. in Kooperation mit Fluctoplasma Festival 2021
Mehr Infos zu den Arbeiten in der Mediathek von Fluctoplasma bis zum 31.10.2021 (kos­ten­pflichtig), danach auf korientation.de.