Twice a month, V.V. Aku shares short stories, book reviews, tales of her former life in China and her current life as an author. For a daily update follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
Chinese Whispers: Himalayan Inspiration
Life on the border of Tibet
As a foreigner, or Laowai, with blonde hair and blue eyes, I am used to getting stared at. Curious glances are often glued to my face, clothes and chest. I’m the only white girl in town and often the first westerner local people have come across. After more than a decade in Southwest China, I’ve lost the urge to stop dead, turn around and scream at my gawkers: ‘Has no one ever taught you that it’s rude to stare?’
Being ‘special’ and therefore a social outcast is part of my life here. As is jumping over blobs of phlegm in the streets, dodging men and women on high speed, but lethally silent, motorbikes, and picking out a live chicken at the market for dinner. I even find inspiration in the oddities that comprise my life.
The streets are teeming with women in colourful costumes. Their long, flared skirts dance in the wind. Their silver jewels reflect the sun. Men stand around the market place, often selling goats. They are Black Yi, or Nuosu, like my husband. They belong to an ancient tribe that dwells in the mountains of Northern Yunnan and Southern Sichuan. For millennia, this tribe has governed its territory with a kind of force and brutality that reminds me of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, minus the horrible human sacrifices. The Black Yi were robbers, bandits, kings and horse masters. And above all there were feared by the other peoples of China. Their community has ever been impenetrable to outsiders. Their bloodline stayed pure for they believe their blood is black and doesn’t mix with those of inferior races. Never before was a Black Yi man allowed to marry a non-Yi woman. Not until Anzi Aku turned my world upside down, and I his.
For what has felt like an eternity, Anzi and I battled for the clan’s acceptance. Even now, after we have been married for six years, our relationship is subject to scrutiny wherever we go. Relatives and family friends offer Anzi women who they believe are more suitable for him. I am not even sure why they eventually consented to our marriage to begin with. But ever since we have been married, my life has changed dramatically.
Clan life meant forsaking my individual ambitions. Striving for the prosperity of the tribe is key – a concept that was completely alien to me. But even though this way of living is sometime insufferable, it also serves as a great source of inspiration for the writer in me. Reborn, a different woman from the selfish Dutch brat I was, I‘ve gained access to the Black Yi’s greatest mysteries. I mingle in their world of shamans and ancients legends of heroes and the spirit world. My debut novel, The Fire of Dawn, though mostly set in Europe and Siberia, is a direct result of my encounters with the paranormal in China’s Wild West.
I miss that world sometimes, but relish the fact that now that I am back in The Netherlands my life is my own again. Yet, I can claim without a doubt, that living there have made me into a better writer. I can’t wait to continue my journey here.
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This isn’t possible! I think, my mind numb with shock. My eyes are glued to the pregnancy test that balances on the edge of the wash basin. In the center of the little stick, two red lines are clearly visible. Oh no. I’m pregnant! Although my husband and I have been trying to have a baby for years, reality now dawns on me. Bile rises in the back of my throat. I’ll have to visit a Chinese doctor.
As is custom in China, there are no GP’s with a private practice in Yangshuo. For medical care I must turn to one of the local hospitals and pray for a competent physician. Communication between different departments is non-existent and the only patient records doctors can access are the, usually semi-decomposed, booklets each patient brings to a consult. Treatment rooms are decorated with bloodstains. Beds are filthy and full of rat holes. The air inside the building reminds me of rotten meat and makes every molecule in my body scream. “Veerle, turn around! You’ll never make it out of here alive!”
In spite of my fear, I head for the hospital the next day. It’s Monday morning. I’m alone. My friends are all at work and my husband is leading an expedition in Tibet. As expected, I’m greeted by a serenade of crying toddlers who have I.V. needles stuck in their foreheads. The little faces, drenched in tears, look so terrified that I almost turn around and run back outside. I redirect my gaze to the obstetric department. The pink walls radiate warmth and are remarkably clean compared to the rest of the building. A façade, I think. Women keep disappearing into the small rooms down the hall. The real horror hides in those small torture chambers.
It takes me all of my willpower but I manage to drag myself into the doctor’s office. Surrounded by pregnant ladies of all shapes and sizes, I try to convey to the obstetrician that I just discovered that I’m expecting. She mutters something inaudible then shoves a piece of paper in my face.
“You pay first,” she snarls. Her harsh tone doesn’t surprise me. After eight years in China, I’m used to being treated like I’m a nuisance. But my hormones are raging. Tears start spilling over. In attempt to stop myself from going on a crying jag I focus on the faces around me. The people in the room all stare at me as if I’m from a different planet, which only upsets me more. My eyes red, my fingers barely able to hold on to my purse, I pay the bill of 7 Renminbi (0.70 GBP). Next, a nurse presses a miniscule cup made of Saran Wrap into my hands. I know what to do with it and am grateful that I can leave the room.
It isn’t hard to find the toilet. I just follow the thickening scent of urine. I pick the cleanest booth and squat down. It takes quite some balancing skills to urinate in the tiny jar without touching anything. Once finished, I return the cup, chock-full of yellow fluid, to the doctor. She asks me to sit down and wait. My hands are covered in pee and there isn’t a wash basin in sight. I feel dirty and incredibly sorry for myself.
“Yes, you have baby!” the obstetrician yells five minutes later. “Come back in six weeks.”
I don’t know if I’m supposed to laugh or cry now that I am officially pregnant. But one thing I know for sure. If I wish to get through the next eight months, I’ll need a lot more courage.
As a ‘laowai’ or foreigner with blonde hair and clear blue eyes, I’m used to getting stared at. Curious glances are often glued to my face, clothes, and chest. I’m the only white girl in town and often the first westerner local people have ever come across. After nearly a decade in southwest China, I’ve lost the urge to stop dead, turn around, and scream. “Has no one ever taught you that it’s rude to stare?!” Being ‘special’ and a social outcast is part of life in this area. As is jumping over blobs of phlegm in the street, dodging men and women on high speed, but deadly silent, motorbikes, and picking out a live chicken at the market whenever I feel peckish for drumsticks. Nowadays, I even find inspiration in the strangeness of my life.
The streets are teeming with women in colorful costumes. Their long, flared skirts dance in the wind. Their silver jewelry reflects the bright sun. Men stand around the market place, often selling or buying goats. They are Black Yi, or Nosu, an ancient tribe that dwells in Northern Yunnan and Southern Sichuan. For millennia, they’ve ruled their territory with a kind of force that reminds me of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, minus the horrible human sacrifices. The Black Yi were robbers, bandits, kings, horse masters, and above all revered by the other peoples of China. Their community has ever been impenetrable to outsiders. Their bloodlines stay pure, for they believe that their black (superior) blood does not mix with the unworthy. Never before was a Black Yi man allowed to marry a non-Yi woman. Not until Anzi Aku turned my world upside down and made me his Nosu bride.
For what felt like an eternity, Anzi and I battled for the clan’s acceptance. It’s still hard and our relationship is subject to scrutiny wherever we go. I’m not sure what eventually changed his family’s mind about our marriage. Perhaps they finally realized that our love was unbreakable. Maybe they simply gave up. But after nearly five years of struggle, they finally gave us their blessing.
My life has changed dramatically. Clan life means forsaking your individual ambitions. Striving for the prosperity of the tribe is key, a concept that was completely alien to me. But even though this way of living is sometimes insufferable, it also serves as a great source of inspiration for the writer in me. Reborn, a different woman altogether from the selfish Dutch brat I once was, I’ve gained access to the Nosu’s greatest mysteries. I mingle in their world of shamans and ancient stories of spirits, demons, and worlds unknown.
My latest novel, The Fire of Dawn (although set mostly in Europe and Siberia), is a direct result of my encounters with the paranormal in China’s Wild West.
For more information about my life in China or upcoming releases, please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/VVAKU.
A friend just sent me this piece of information. Highly disturbing, but unfortunately a truth me and my family need to deal with on a daily basis. I can only hope that one day the Chinese government will step up to secure the safety of its people. I just want to be able to eat a freaking apple or dumpling without the fear of getting cancer.
Don't buy Kiwi Fruit from China!
Please circulate as far as possible, everyone must be informed and they can make their own choices.
When this is being foisted on to the public without their knowledge, it is tantamount to criminal activity.
You will have noticed some unusually large Kiwi fruit on the shelves and these look very attractive too!!!
No wonder we have so many sick people when they eat products like this, and there are many of both.
Don't buy Kiwi Fruit from China!
The Kiwi Fruit are soaked with chemicals whilst growing on trees so they will grow larger and weigh heavier.
They are using some kind of chemical growth hormones that can have bad effects upon human nervous systems including metabolic disorders, birth defects, and retarded learning abilities of children. The same effect as the fluoride put in water!
The Kiwi fruits, after soaking in the Chemical Hormone will grow larger and are more preferred by the merchants because they are more profitable! Most of the fruit are from the Sichuan area.
Just avoid Kiwi fruit from China if you care for your family's safety!
Wudang Mountain in Hubei province is by far my most favorite place in China. Although the country still holds many places left to be explored and discovered, I can’t imagine any other patch of land will fascinate me as much as the holy mountain that gave birth to TaiChi, Qigong, Kung Fu, Chinese traditional medicine, Astrology, and the never-ending quest for immortality. Given, I am a down-to-earth person and not at all easily swayed by spirituality of any kind, I can’t deny that being here reveals an inexplicable connection with something deeper than what I can see, smell, and touch. This connection, invisible to the senses, is called the dragon’s breath－an energy that is part of everything. Or more adequately put, everything is part of this energy: Chi.
Ascending the twenty thousand hand-carved steps to the golden palace, my journey up isn’t just accompanied by the sight of mysterious (Mr. Miagi-like), long-haired, pointy-bearded masters that practice kung fu or meditation each time the path curves around another incline. Nor does my breath falter solely at the sight of the ancient temples I pass along the way. It is mostly the overwhelming feeling that fairytales are alive in this place that stirs my wonder. Wudang is a land where crouching tigers and hidden dragons are alive and roaring.
It has long been a wish of mine to stay on the mountain for a longer period of time and unlock some of its ancient secrets. Lili Fan, one of the main characters in The Fire of Dawn, came to life after my first visit here last year. In Black Dusk, the sequel, Leah and Max will visit Lili’s home, and thus it’s only natural that I would expand my research on the area. However, it isn’t easy for an outsider to get the inside information.
Luckily, against all odds, the universe has dealt me an amazing hand. On my way, my path crossed that of master Shi Ning, who has spent his entire life on the slopes of Wudang. For years he has wandered around the Southern Grotto Palace, where tourists gather and find shelter for the night, in search of an author with an interest in the legends of his home and his specialty as a Taoist monk: immortality. The amazing thing is: he has offered me free stay, food, TaiChi lessons, and any information I need, including the opportunity to interview some of the ancient humans that still roam the mountain after a hundred years. In return, I will help him write his story. How crazy is that?
Thank you universe!
How does one know if one has truly integrated into Chinese society, culture, and customs? Although there are no set standards or rules, one can say that a foreigner has sufficiently adjusted when he or she:
1. Clips one’s nails in public (in the street, bus, restaurant, etc)
2. Is able to fall asleep at any moment at any place.
3. Speaks the local dialect.
4. Has learned to feel shameless about going to the toilet in front of a dozen curious women.
5. Talks to loudly in the phone
6. Chews with deafening sound effects
7. Stops whatever it is one is doing when one sees a group of people huddled together in the street and immediately goes to see what’s going on.
8. Takes a six-hour bus ride and considers it short.
9. Can quarrel in a tone of voice that makes one sound like a hoarse chicken on acid.
I caught myself doing all of the above recently. Have I lost all sense or does this mean that I have gone native?
To be continued…
I feel like I’m living inside a dream; awake and yet lost in a mirage-like haze that feels so amazing that I’m ninety-nine percent convinced that it can’t be real.
Last week I had to overcome my biggest fear and had my wisdom tooth extracted by a scary Chinese dentist－and survived against all odds. But even more unbelievable, I reached my ultimate high when the reviews of The Fire of Dawn came streaming in. Not only are sales records reaching into the thousands, but there are also people among those curious readers who actually like my book－something I never deemed possible until now. It’s a strange phenomenon.
When I started working on this novel, it was purely out of frustration for the lack of available storybooks here in China. My kids, both wolves famished for fresh plots and adventures, finally drove me to pick up my pen and create Leah Koopmans and the host of characters that dwell inside The Fire of Dawn. But not once while I was writing did I imagine that one day other people besides my kids and direct family would enjoy my scribbling.
I hope one day you will share this feeling. Anyway, thank you all for believing in me. I feel truly blessed.
Guangzhou, Guangzhou. International city of smog and taxi gangs, traffic jams and crammed subway cars, yet it possesses an allure strong enough to overcome its smelly stigma, and I have to admit that I actually love it here. It is my retreat. Strange perhaps, since I live in paradise. But even heaven has its downsides. At times, I yearn for a whiff of exhaust fumes and a chance to blend in with the masses. Always being the only one to stand out in a crowd wears on me some time. And although running a loving family and launching a book sounds like fun, it can all be terribly exhausting. Darkness creeps into my brain until, slowly, it consumes every ounce of light. Okay, I admit, this all sounds overly dramatic, probably because I am miserable. I’m never ill, but right now my body feels like a hellish cage. The only way to feel better is slay
one of my biggest fears and willingly set foot inside a Chinese hospital. The fact that I’m even considering this is a good indication of how crappy I feel.
For someone who writes about bloodthirsty immortals and vampires I’m really not
that brave in real life. Yet, my fear isn’t completely irrational. After having spent nearly a decade in China, I have encountered my fare share of over-crowded consultation rooms where one has to talk about his or her entire medical history
in front of a dozen other anxious patients, dingy check-up spaces with beds
covered in blood-and-iodine stains－the kind of room you fear you’ll never leave again, not alive at least. And yet all this doesn’t terrify me as much as having to talk to a doctor whose top priority isn’t to restore my health, but to sell as much medicine as possible. The more prescriptions he writes, the higher his salary. Commission is
a powerful thing. There’s truly something deranged about this. Fortunately, my
Chinese these days allows me to say no against certain meds, like China’s all time favorite: Amoxicillin. Life for some, but not good for me. Ingesting it gives me light allergies, making me feel exactly like the average vampire when put in sunlight.
Luckily, I am in one of China’s largest cities, which means I will probably be able to find an international hospital. Here goes. If you don’t hear from me again in the next few days, you’ll know that I haven’t made it out.
Gosh, people often ask me what I miss most about my former life in Europe. I guess that having trustworthy medical care is a firm number one.
Today my son is nine. He is not a small boy anymore and in less than a decade he will be an adult, although I have a hard time imagining him as a grown man. Time is so sneaky. It crawls through the cracks unseen, slowly eroding the foundations of your life. But for my son it is bliss. He yearns to grow up, go on adventures, taste life in its purest form.
He reminds me of myself. I couldn’t wait to turn eighteen and explore the world. To the great detriment of my dear parents I fought throughout my adolescence as a trapped rat struggling for freedom. I nearly gnawed off my limbs. I can’t keep from praying that my son won’t become like I
was－an uncontrollable dragon set to self-destruct. I fear the laws of karma. When one has so thoroughly embarrassed herself and hurt the people she loves, karma is destined to kick her in the butt. Fortunately, I will still have a few more years to prepare myself for the worst. Abu is only nine. That means, if he’s anything like me, I can expect him to start raising hell in about four years time. This last thought encourages me to get out of bed.
Abu and his sister are already scurrying about. I hear their tiny footsteps on the stone tiles and their exited gasps when they open their bedroom door and see that all the walls are completely covered with balloons. They know that they aren’t supposed to wake me and I can sense their struggle to remain quiet. It won’t be long before their excitement turns into an endless, earsplitting record－‘Mommy, mommy, mommy. It’s my birthday! Mommy!’ I opt to preserve my eardrums and not to keep
As expected I find both my kids right outside my door, smiling from ear to ear. I give them both a big hug, and an extra kiss for Abu. That beautiful face. Suddenly, I can’t believe that he will ever grow up to be a teen monster like his mum. Who knows? Today, at least, I shall cherish.
V.V. Aku: writer, mother, rock-climber, kung fu addict. and explorer, lived in China on the border of Tibet with her Black Yi family for over a decade. She recently moved back to The Netherlands where she devotes her time to writing book and scripts for film and TV.