Thursday, June 5, 2008

China Day 06: Lilian's Story

On the way to lunch, Lilian shared a bit more of her own story.

Her dad was born in Beijing, but was sent to a tiny town out west during the Cultural Revolution. There he met her mom, settled down, and had Lilian. I gather that the family was doing OK out there - they had a house, and I got the impression it was fairly nice.

However, when Lilian got a little older the family decided she needed the best schooling possible, which they couldn't get out in the backwater where they lived.
They decided to make a sacrifice: the whole family moved back to Beijing and lived with the dad's parents - all of them in a 500-square-foot apartment!

This drastic measure worked - Lilian made it into University. In China, there is a huge exam taken all over the country on one weekend. A little like the SAT, it determines whether you will get into the university, but unlike the SAT, 1) I think you only get one chance and 2) passing/failing is very cut and dried: get the number score and you're in, miss it and you're out. Oh, there's a bit of adaptation - kids from Mongolia or other rural areas have their cutoff number set a little lower as a kind of affirmative action - but not too much. In Lilian's year the Pass number was 375 and she got...375. Whew! Squeaked it! So she got to go to university, where she majored in tourism.

Later on she met and fell in love with the guy who would eventually become her husband, but her parents didn't really like him. "They said he wasn't handsome enough, or career-minded enough". (Well, what set of parents really think any man is good enough for their precious baby girl?) Lilian told her boyfriend to wait them out; eventually they'd come around. Well, sure enough, she held out and once she got to be about 26, her parents were like "Go ahead, marry him! Nobody else will want you - you're getting so old!" (She told us she had been married about three years, so that puts her right on the threshold of 30.)

In China, the groom's parents were traditionally responsible for providing the young couple with a place to live. I guess in the old days that would be a room off the family courtyard. Now it translates into giving the newlyweds a down payment on a condo. Lilian's in-laws offered a down payment on an 800-square-foot condo, but she held out for an 1100-square-foot place. She wasn't being greedy - the plan was, she and her new husband would invite her parents to live with them. "They had lived so long with my grandparents, I thought I would like to have them here instead." What a good daughter - and son-in-law! Apparently this is a very nice arrangement, because there are four for mah-jong on Friday evenings!

And it was a little humbling to reflect that my condo, where I live with two dogs and no people, is 1300 square feet, and the apartment I moved out of because it was too small is 800 square feet. We're pretty spoiled over here. Or at least I am.

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