Stephen Chan

The Late Home-coming Prodigal Son – Chapter 2

A translation from ‘遊子遲遲歸’

Chapter Two    My Childhood

I have forgotten a lot of my childhood stories. Here are some that stood out in my memories with a few half faded ones.

My nanny used to tell me that my family did not like me. It could be because I was not the smart, bright, and lively type. On top of that, I arrived when the economy was at its lowest. Hong Kong was a port heavily depended on import and export trades. The strike had put the economy on a standstill and every family was greatly affected. My mother used to complain repeatedly that an egg cost spiked to ten cents each. A copper penny coin with a square hole in the center was still widely used in those days. And a silver dollar could feed a man for 30 days if it weren’t because of the strike!

In our big extended family, we had an unwritten tradition. That is, if a daughter-in-law gave birth to a son, she would receive a specially prepared chicken soup every day to help her replenish her birthing losses. If she gave birth to a girl, then she would get this on alternate days only. But when I was born, the economy was so bad that my mother had her chicken soup once a week. During this time my father kept losing money in mahjong (a gambling game), thus I was blamed for the misfortune brought to the family. Further more, my mother became very sick soon after my birth, she was not able to breastfeed me, and no breastfeeding nanny was available either. Among all my siblings, I was the only child fed by powdered milk. I had problem digesting the powdered milk, and became very cranky and cried frequently. My grandpa loved his grandchildren dearly. Whenever he heard any baby cries, he would reprimand his daughter-in-law for not taking good care of his grandchild. This caused a lot of grief for my mother during my infancy. When I recall all these events, I believe they were all part of God’s plan. He chose me when I was still in my mother’s womb, He let me experience all these incidents to discipline, train, and mold me for His own purpose.

As a youth, I felt life was painful. Whether in my grandpa’s big family or in my father’s small family, I was always ignored, mistreated, and blamed. We were living as a big community. I have two older brothers, one older sister, two younger brothers and one younger sister. My father was number five among his siblings. In addition, my grandpa bought each daughter and daughter-in-law a maid from his native village Fuzhou. Thus, in such a big community, gossips and tattle tales around the household were inevitable. Everyone tried to please Grandpa, and all maids and servants tried to please their mistresses and masters too. They all knew which child was a favorite, which was not. Relationships between relatives were very hypocritical.  As I was the most unfavorable one, I always got accused and blamed for things I did not do. If a maid broke a glass, she could easily blame me, and I would have to bear the punishment. Such unfair incidents happened too many times.

So before the age of twelve, I already experienced all kinds of deceitfulness, craftiness, and hypocrisy in my family. I learned to read people’s subtle facial expressions to discern whether their intentions were good or evil. I hate hypocrites because I suffered a lot from them since I was young. I dislike people who fawn on their superiors for favor, then turn around and abuse their fellow workers. I was very angry at my family and often questioned why I was born in this household. I told myself many times, “One day I would grow up to be a mighty and powerful official, and repay all those who have mistreated me.”

I returned to our native village Fuzhou (福州) with my parents when I was three years old. Grandpa and all his wives and descendants lived in a three-storey mansion with a large garden. There was a large study room for all children to have private education. A scholar was hired to teach us. I had 3 to 4 years of such education.  When I was seven years old I became seriously ill with colon inflammation and had difficulty passing bowel for two months. I was bed ridden for three months. Everyone thought I would die, but God kept me alive. To this day I have no idea how could I have survived.

After I recovered, my family left for Hong Kong again. I was too weak to start school right away, so I rested for half a year. I went into grade three at the age of 8, but had to work very hard to catch up. My nanny, who had worked for us for two generations, had seen the ups and downs of our family. She was the only one who gave me comfort and support. When I felt ill-treated, she encouraged me to strive, and study hard. I really worked very hard. I was always one of the top two students in class, never dropped to the third place in my elementary school years. Even so, my family never acknowledged my good grade but considered my grades were good because my school had a lower standard. My siblings received rewards if they were within the top ten in the class. This discriminatory treatment alienated me from my family all the more.

When I finished grade five, my parents transferred me to an English   school because they felt it was better to take up English. With some connections, I was enrolled in King’s College (英皇书院), starting from grade eight. At that time the English education system was different from the Chinese education system, where their grade eight was equivalent to elementary grade one. I became the tallest student in class with the lowest level in English. I dreaded our teacher tremendously. She was an Eurasian, very strict and mean. I sometimes got punished with detention, or a number of pages to copy at home, or made to donate five cents for charity. Whenever my parents found out, without exception, they would cane me no matter why I got punished by my teacher. Therefore I hated school ever since I transferred to King’s College. I had a buddy named Zhang Qi Wen (張啟文). His family was very poor, but he was the best student in class. He was my best friend. Every day we walked to school together, from Wan-chai (湾仔) to Bon-ham Road (般含道). He walked to save money for his parents; I walked to save money for my allowance. He was advancing daily with good characters and academic achievements; I, on the contrary, was retreating to self-destruction.

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