Issue 1, Volume 18
The article below is the first in a weekly series created by De Minimis and Jake Huang, the MULSS International Students' Representative. During these trying times, international students are living through their unique version of challenges. With a focus on their narratives, cultures and perspectives, this series aims to remind us of the diversity of the MLS cohort, a quality that makes the MLS a truly special place.
It is my pleasure to kick off this new series called International Perspectives. The Year of Rat, as my people call 2020, has been nothing but eventful. Waves of pandemic, geopolitical tensions, injustices around the world and the pressure from law school are all trying to rock us overboard. With my normal life and sense of security long lost, my goal is to at least salvage my sanity.
Fortunately, writing this article while reflecting on my upbringing is a great therapy to help me restore a sense of connection to my family and my hometown, which I have not seen in about two years. Born and raised in a small city in the Guangdong province in the south of China, I am Cantonese, which is also the name of my first language shared by people in neighbouring areas like Hong Kong and Malaysia. In fact, my great grandpa from my father's side used to run a business in Hong Kong before he fled back to the mainland during the Japanese occupation, while my great grandpa from my mother's side spent the best part of his life working in Malaysia to provide for his family. There was indeed a lot of fleeing and moving around back then, which is a testament to how tough life was.
When my parents were children, China was still reeling in extreme poverty caused by one bad decision after another. Eating meat for dinner was a luxury that my mother only enjoyed a handful of times a year. With this history in mind, it almost feels surreal that after just one generation of effort, children like me grew up carefree in newly built cities, surrounded by shiny toys and American cartoons.
It is for this reason that my parents and I shared very distinct experiences growing-up. This often prevents us from fully understanding each other: I could be doing great at school in English which they never got to learn, yet they would accuse me of abandoning our peasant-style, village-folk survival skills by not being able to tell vegetables by their leaves. As a result, growing up I was never the biggest fan of the small village where my father was from. Everything there seemed so old, backward and alien to my city-kid lifestyle.
However, having spent the past few years living in one big city after another and straying further and further away from home, I have gradually come to appreciate the simplicity of that village lifestyle. That feeling has grown strong during this pandemic. When COVID-19 was ravaging the best part of China several months ago, my family moved from the city back to the village for more space and fresh air. They have stayed there ever since. Living in the village has its perks, for example, our neighbour let my parents catch some chicken from his farm for dinner when the town market was in lockdown; my mother also told me how our dog, a city-bred princess, gallantly kept the chicken in our yard when they tried to escape.
As I sit in my bedroom/library/classroom/gym writing this article now, I really miss the simple and self-sufficient way of life in our village. It is only during this extreme crisis of humanity that I learned however high up I fly, my family and hometown are always there for me to fall back on. I used to think my roots were a rock weighing me down, but they turned out to be a bedrock raising me up.
Villages in China do not just support me and my family materially and emotionally, they are also the ultimate safety net for many city workers who lost their job during the pandemic. The land nourishes the people and prevents them from starving, and the village social structure built on century-long clanship provides the solidarity necessary for people to power through any crisis. Villages and their lifestyle might be under threat from rapid urbanisation in China, but these unique qualities will prevent them from vanishing. After all, the apple can never fall too far from the tree, and the tree always holds onto the land.
Jake Huang is a second year JD student, and the MULSS International Representative