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I’ve been to Grandma’s hometown Fuzhou a few times,
mostly when I was too young to remember.

Last time when we visited, Grandma was in better health than now.
We walked along the Min river on a sunny afternoon.
She wanted to show me where she used to live.
I know that house. There was a market right below the windows of the living room.
Neighbouring sounds filled the space,
like the news and music programs played on the radio.
My cousin and I used to play with toy guns and shoot water into the street.
Whenever someone noticed us, we just ducked. It was our naughty pleasure.

After strolling for an hour or so, she hadn’t seen the house.
Brand new apartment buildings lined up and blocked her views.
We couldn’t find the place.
Grandma sat down on a bench, staring at the river, and told me that she used to be in love with a sailor. He left and never came back. She asked me to find someone I love and hold on to that. Later, I talked to Mom about this. She said that she never knew. Grandma and her generation are very good at keeping secrets.

Maybe that is why I never heard about Great-grandpa until Grandma suddenly phoned me at my dorm in college on an evening in 2013. She asked if I was interested in visiting Myanmar. She said that her father had been there.

It took another five years for the family trip to eventually happen.
Compared with Grandma’s lifetime of waiting after Great-grandpa left,
it is pretty efficient.

She started to tell me about her father, even though the stories were repeating themselves.

“He was very good-looking.”
“Many nights, he would have social events to attend, dinners, meetings, gatherings. I wouldn’t go to bed ‘til he came home. Because he always brought me those steamed rice buns. So good. I refused to sleep without the late-night snacks he bought for me.”
“He used to work the box office at theatres. Mom would iron his shirts and pants every day. He was such a tidy person.”

For a long time, Great-grandpa’s story was tied to his later business in Myanmar.

Great-grandma visited him once in 1950s. But back then women, especially women without local ID papers, were not allowed to walk in the streets. She stayed for a short term and came back to China. I asked my Mom if she knew anything more. She said that Grandma used to keep a diary. She never looked inside but her sister did. I then asked my Aunt. She didn’t admit it.

During the making of this film, I brought my girlfriend Zoe home to meet Grandma.
I filmed Grandma cutting her toenails using a pair of big scissors.
“Does your Mom know about you two?”
“About what?”
“That you are in a relationship.”
“You figured it out?”
“Of course I figured it out.”
She continued, “Just don’t make it too public. Society is not that open and friendly to girls who are together...But it is common in schools and in the art circle.”

I guess I didn’t listen to her.

Xinyuan Zheng Lu

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