The second aunt of the goat

The second aunt, however, was short, dry and thin, with dark skin and slightly squinted eyes. I have never thought about how much strength and confidence it takes for someone born less beautiful than her sisters in a large family not to be mentally unbalanced and have a strange personality. When her family talked about her, they never commented on her looks, but only said, “Hey, women who are sheep have a hard life.”


The mansion in Kuanxiang Lane on Kunming’s Ru’an Street is the last domain of a large and declining family in the provincial capital. Not just a family, but an era is dying. My great-grandfather took the traditional path of meritocracy, won the scholarship, became a Qing official and pined for the people. His eldest son, my grandfather, wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, but did not have his father’s style and talent, although he was still able to sit majestically in the head of the family in the 1930s. What challenged his absolute authority was the politics that crept into the mansion. The thick sycamore tree trunks in the garden were plastered with Kuomintang slogans, and a group of people, including the third grandfather and the great aunt, decided to follow the national savior Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, and the slogans were directed at the grandfather who had joined the Communist Party. The great aunt later openly eloped with a Kuomintang member whom her grandfather called “the white man from Shanghai”. The relatives, of course, doubted whether she believed in the Kuomintang or fell in love with the party member; grandfather, however, was so politically motivated that he put an advertisement in the newspaper to break off the father-daughter relationship with his great aunt.

The patriotic young man from the flowery world is enamored with the young lady from the small highland town, apparently also because of her pretty face and figure. Her half-sister, my second aunt, lacked this inherent luck. While almost all the girls of that generation were handsome and beautiful, my second aunt was short, thin, dark-skinned, and had slightly squinting eyes. I have never thought about how much strength and confidence it takes for someone who is not as beautiful as her sisters in the extended family to not be mentally unbalanced and weird. When my family talked about her, they never commented on her looks, but only said, “Hey, women who are sheep have a hard life.”

There is only one story about the second aunt, and it is a happy one. Grandfather went to be the governor of a certain place, taking grandmother and second aunt with him, and returned to her hometown at the end of his term, with a string of coins jingling in the 10-year-old second young lady’s coat pocket. Cousins in the mansion, all of her cooing, her elder brother, my father, came up with an idea to ask her to treat, calculated her wealth, eating a meal is too small, it will be original, about seven or eight young men and women in the family “to eat through Kunming”, walking through several streets in the small town, every restaurant to go in and eat a pass. Her ghostly brother said, do not let people think we bully the weak, this journey we must call her little aunt, so, a group of people after each meal, they said loudly: “full, full, little aunt you go to the check.” Out of the door, the crowd was very happy.


As far back as I can remember, my second aunt was already married. Thin, yellow, short and small second aunt, married to a tall, handsome Cantonese man. The second aunt’s father was optimistic and humorous, always laughing, and worshipped my father, the eldest brother who was good at everything from hunting to fiddling with electrical appliances. The family owned an auction house, actually a consignment house, on Justice Road, the main street in Kunming. The business owners who were beaten down in the 1950s, the landlords who came down from the countryside to live in the city, and the bureaucrats of the old government, selling their belongings was the main source of livelihood, and the collections gathered over generations, even furniture and clothes, were sold with their eyes closed to meet urgent needs. When I was about 10 years old, I heard that the owner of the Dade Pharmacy in Kunming was selling Simmons beds for 160 yuan, so my brother and I took it upon ourselves to sell the only bicycle we had at home in exchange for a little comfort for my mother, who was ill. The bicycle was parked in the second aunt’s consignment shop for a few days and then sold for 120 yuan.

The second aunt’s family lived above the consignment shop. The relatives and friends in Kunming have Chinese tables and chairs, but the second aunt’s house is a set of elegant Western-style furniture, with very smooth, the second aunt’s clothes, as if with the same tone, beige, light yellow, light coffee. Whenever I went to her house, I always saw her knitting sweaters, all with the finest yarn and the most harmonious colors. My mother, my second aunt and my sister-in-law are the three masters of sweater knitting I’ve ever seen, able to use such fine threads to create smooth, velvet-like works of art. Finger picking needle winding, 100% even, requires not only skill, but also that quiet as water state of mind.

Within a few years of marriage, the second aunt’s mind is difficult to quiet down, first of all, income became a problem. When the large families, the middle families sold out of more or less valuable items, the consignment line will have completed its historical mission. The second aunt had gone to teacher training, passed the kindergarten teacher recruitment exam at the time, and went to work in kindergartens. The second aunt’s father had graduated from college and could have applied for a job in the public sector, but unfortunately he had registered to join the Kuomintang and could not pass the political examination. He felt so wronged. The second aunt’s father was an easy-going man, and he couldn’t be bothered by his pestering, so he registered, but he never imagined that one stroke of the pen would lead to a thousand hatreds, and now the burden of living for the family would fall on his weak wife. The second aunt’s father thus fell into reluctance, the lung disease in the early years of the relapse, within a few years they passed away.

Their only son grew up weak, and when he was a little older, he began to take Chinese and Western medicine constantly. Later, when Aunt Er heard that a monk in the West Mountain was very spiritual, she took him to get a Dharma name, Drunken Sea, and from then on we called him Drunken Sea, but couldn’t remember his real name. I’m afraid it is still spiritual, from then on he is not considered strong, but scared the second aunt night not dare to close the eyes of a serious illness will be less guilty. Little Drunken Sea looks more like his father, and has a loving face, whether laughing or crying, his face will be flooded with more than a pair of “dimples”, evoking the care of adults.


After the death of the second aunt, the second aunt simply moved to the second kindergarten she taught, in the Cuihu side of the Crystal Palace Da Meiyuan Lane, this series of beautiful street name has an unusual period, kindergarten mansion was later the commander-in-chief of the three armies of the People’s Republic of China, Marshal Zhu De in Kunming when the residence. The two courtyards in front and back, green windows, red “youchun”, that is, the outer corridor; big red and big green, but with a quiet and quiet. The two courtyards of flowers and trees may be Zhu De planted in the years of the Yunnan Military Academy, the most solitary standard a purple violet, Kunming people called scratching flowers. I had the opportunity to scratch its smooth bark and watch the flowering branches sway under the magic. During the hanging flower season, the yard is filled with the fragrance of the house. The kindergarten teacher, especially the second aunt who acted as the resident teacher, did not have much poetry in her life. They got up early in the morning and queued up at the vegetable market with meat tickets, one catty of which could buy two catties of ribs for the children to make broth. Parents send their children at 7:30 a.m. and pick them up at 6:30 p.m. More than 100 boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 6 have their food, drink, and poop taken care of by several “aunties” and teachers in the whole kindergarten.

After arriving in Hong Kong, I heard that the kindergarten only accepts children who go to the toilet on their own. I couldn’t help but think of how many children my second aunt had trained in her life to handle the end of the digestive system. What amazed me was that the children could be trained to go to the group to solve problems at regular intervals, sitting in rows on a potty against the wall in the small classes, and going to the toilet at regular intervals in the middle and large classes. We remember the teachers who had a profound influence on us in elementary and middle school, but we probably forgot about the kindergarten teachers and aunts who wiped our bottoms.

Kindergarten teachers do not have “empty rooms”, and the second aunt and most teachers are the same, from the opening to closing of the kindergarten, 10 or so hours of work inside and outside, teaching singing, storytelling, teaching word recognition. I once went to her class, and about half of the time was spent trying to stop the children from talking, trying to get their attention, and the list of children was posted on the wall, with a varying number of little stars after each name, in recognition of good behavior.

The students left, the teachers went home from work, the second aunt made her rounds of the front and back yards, the doors and windows were closed, and it was dark. The hope in life is simple, waiting for Sunday, you can sleep a little more, less busy day. In the years of the “Great Leap Forward”, there were always new names for the leaders to come up with to ask the employees to work overtime. During the “Cultural Revolution”, classes were suspended everywhere to catch the revolution, but the kindergarten could not be stopped. The second aunt came from an old bureaucratic background, and once there was a political movement (that was most years), she had to write all kinds of “awareness” and “inspection”, and there were politics even in the days when there was no movement. “. Being in kindergarten, everywhere is the opportunity to perform, as long as the morning and night to do, one is not afraid of hardship, two is not afraid of tired, three is not afraid of dirty to do on the line. The second aunt was often awarded as an exemplary teacher for her good performance, and a few kind words and a certificate were enough to make her feel rewarded for her hard work. She was the most senior among her colleagues and loved by the parents of her students, but she was never promoted because her family was from an old bureaucratic background. The kindergarten later became a famous school in the city, said to be more difficult than entering a major university, that is already after the departure of the second aunt and this generation of pioneers, another equally famous kindergarten, located in the second aunt spent their teenage years in the Xiong family Broad Street mansion. What a coincidence.


My second aunt loved to read novels and had a fondness for Russian writers, and I went to her many times to exchange novels. She told me many interesting stories about the kindergarten, and I remember most of all the story about the director of the kindergarten. The director came from a good background and was the only member of the party in the kindergarten, and although she hadn’t attended much school, she often spoke amazingly. She went to a meeting held by the Health Bureau and came back, called an emergency meeting with all the teachers to convey: “Now there is an epidemic of Albanian dysentery in Kunming.” Although everyone understood that it was actually amoebic dysentery, but did not dare to laugh. In those days, we had to go to the anti-American march, and the director of the school took the lead in chanting the slogan “Down with American imperialism!” “Support the patriotic actions of the Lebanese people!” She criticized the staff, saying, “Look at other kindergartens, they all walk together after the meeting, but I walk out alone, you all walk away, not close to the organization at all.”

With her meager salary, the second aunt had to provide for her nieces and nephews who joined the family one after another. The third aunt, who bore no resemblance to the second aunt in appearance and character, committed suicide in the early 1950s. She was the only one among the aunts and uncles who usually put on makeup and put on lipstick in public with a small mirror. There is a picture of her in my family’s photo album, wearing a sea-ox velvet coat and a Hollywood star’s hair style, with high curls on her head, dressed in a luxurious manner. “In the early days of the Cultural Revolution, fearing that their homes would be raided, each family took it upon themselves to “sweep up the old and the new”, and the picture of her as a bourgeois wife was first taken out of the photo book and burned. The third aunt father as a police officer, that is just a profession. He was a good-looking man, willing to work hard, not stupid, easy to rise in that profession. When the new regime was established, he and the millions of officials who served in the former military and political departments of the government, all became “enemy personnel”, and all of a sudden owed the blood of the people and had to go to jail. My mother didn’t like this third aunt and father, both of whom smoked opium, and the man might have even been an opium dealer. The third aunt’s father was arrested and the family was left without a livelihood. The third aunt has always been proud, without consulting anyone, they borrowed money to open a small restaurant selling rice noodles, the location chosen in the town not far from the grandfather’s country house. The third young lady, who has always had her hands full, now has to shabu-shabu, wash dishes and serve rice noodles, and the main employee is a country bumpkin whom she has always despised; now it’s someone else’s turn to take a bit of a stand from the governor’s daughter. Finally, one night, after smoking opium for a while and forgetting all about her lovely children, she swallowed the rest of the opium and drank a few more sips of wine and was done with it. With her husband in jail, she left behind a son and a daughter, and relatives on the male side picked up the boy; the daughter, Xiao Ping, looked like a doll, with white and red skin and big talking eyes. She has since been living in her second aunt’s house, calling her mother.


“During the Cultural Revolution, my second aunt’s brother, Uncle Xiao, also committed suicide. He worked in the county and became the head of the rebellion in the county. When the rebellion became the object of struggle, the young leader, who was not well-born, naturally became a class enemy and was fought day and night. The need to show their revolutionary position of the masses, the faction and the opposing faction of the same, punching and kicking him. I remember that my little uncle did not talk much, but he was very “dumb” and naughty, and he spent all day in the woods in the back of the mountain catching birds and snakes. When there were unexpected guests in the house, grandma would send him to look for mushrooms, and he knew the mushroom nests and never came back empty-handed. That summer, after a criticism meeting, he disappeared, and only a few days later sheep herders saw him hanging from a tree. Maybe he just went to pick mushrooms and remembered that he would be humiliated tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and in which month of the year, so he left his heart in his beloved woods forever.

His wife is a Sichuanese, young and beautiful, skin as clear as a child, soon remarried, take away the son, daughter little sister sent to the second aunt, after some years, little sister her mother came to take her away again. There is no place for the children entrusted to the second aunt to raise, to not need her to say, to take back, it all seems to be taken for granted. Now and then I see on the news that there are wars between families over children and that they fight to the death, and I think of my second aunt and the children she raised and left. Her heart got worse and worse, and I remember her laughing and sobbing, saying, “Too much heart, too much hurt.” Who ever understood her?

It was her youngest brother who was forever grateful and respectful to her.

“The family considered him to be a prodigy because he could not forget a thing since he was a child. His well-read father had high hopes for his youngest son. Family background is not good, the family is short of money, so he chose not to charge for food, the Northwest College of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine. After graduation, he was assigned to the Qilian Mountains in Gansu as a communal veterinarian, a go for 30 years. He said he envied Su Wu, who only had to manage a group of sheep, but a village veterinarian had to carry a medicine box over the mountains and villages, giving vaccinations and treating diseases for herdsmen and farmers’ livestock. He had been lost in the snow and wind and had more than one experience of nine deaths. There is another side to the story. In the eyes of the mountain people, the veterinarian is more important than the doctor, the livestock died, the family will be cut off from life. The old uncle is short, his skin somehow not tanned, kind eyebrows and eyes, like an alien in the northwest Han. The people felt that this “life-saving benefactor” with a good heart and high medical skills, as if sent from the heavens, was extremely good to him. The “Cultural Revolution” came and the revolutionary team cleaned out the son of the old governor decades ago and sent him to the mountains to graze. This time he knew what Su Wu was like, sleeping in a shack, burning cow dung, and not seeing anyone for months. Once, heard a bell coming from the opposite mountain, thought a herder passing by, darted down the mountain, calling all the way, the result still did not see a person.

He never knew that the desire to see and talk to people would be as unbearable as hunger.

The veterinarian, who is known far and wide, was transferred back to the county only after the “Cultural Revolution” late in the year “to promote production”. Year after year, like the second aunt, was always rated as a model, but also not reused.

Every time the second aunt came to dad, the topic was how to help his brother transferred back to Kunming, for many years only the second aunt constantly wrote to his brother exiled in the northwest, until the mid-1980s, the introduction of talent can be transferred without first transferring personal files, transfer of household registration. Relatives in Kunming finally helped him to contact the receiving unit. But the original unit, which had “owned” him for 30 years, still wouldn’t let him go, and he couldn’t buy a train ticket without the unit’s certificate. When his second aunt came to my father, she decided to send him a telegram saying, “Mother is critically ill, return quickly”.

I also worked with him when I returned to Yunnan in 1988 to participate in a poverty alleviation project in Australia. He spoke Yunnanese with a Gansu accent and was undoubtedly one of the most skilled “Chinese experts”, but still under-appreciated. I visited him two years ago, but he had retired early and was teaching his little grandson his homework, contentedly.

The second aunt finally hoped that her son would get married and her grandson would be born. After her death, she was buried in the five old peaks of the West Mountain, not far from her mother’s grave, it is not easy to go to the grave, you have to climb an hour along the steep mountain road. That year, the Qingming Festival, we went to my mother’s grave, as in the past, also went to the second aunt’s grave to burn incense, see the money and paper, incense sticks have been left, we thought it must be the second aunt’s only son came, but down the hill when they met the family is going up.

Who came to pay respects to the second aunt? The people she took care of in her humble life? But who still remembered her?