My father never chitchatted with me the way my mother does, but he has been very chatty with me on this trip. At lunch yesterday, he told me an interesting little story about his maternal grandmother’s tomb. In the late 1970s, when the government wanted to build a highway over his maternal grandmother’s grave in Jiang Xi Province, my father went with a Feng Shui master to the site to move the sepulcher. They dug up the grave and saw 6 blind carps in the underground water around the coffin. The Feng Shui master told my father that the fish needed to be released to the river and the children — meaning me, my brother and our cousins — should go as far away as possible. “That’s why your mother and I did everything in our power to send you and your brother to America,” he said.
The story reminded me of another incident that seemed puzzling at the time, but is now clear to me. In the late 90s, a friend of mine was opening a private heart clinic in Shanghai and wanted to recruit my father and Peter to be her partners. I was excited by the idea of moving back to my beloved hometown to be near my parents. And Peter was intrigued enough not to call me crazy. I thought my parents would be pleased by the possibility, but my father emphatically said, “Don’t do it. Your destiny is not here.” In retrospect, I believe that Peter would have been miserable living and working in Shanghai, where the medical culture and beliefs were completely different from his own. At the time, though, I was taken aback and a little hurt by my father’s staunch opinion that I no longer belonged in Shanghai.
My father has been a doctor all his life and at the age of 84, he works half a day everyday at his office or meeting patients at his home office. In my mind, he would be the last one to believe what a Feng Shui master had to say. Just as I was contemplating my father’s complex and contradictory beliefs and personality traits, he made light of his own story, “actually one could often find fish in the mountain caves of that region. It was really nothing magical.”
Then both my parents began to talk about the different types of burials that people employ nowadays. There was the flower burial, where you plant flowers in the ashes. There was the ocean burial where you take a ship and scatter the ashes in the open sea. My mother said to my father, “I don’t want an ocean burial. I won’t be able to be with you if you scatter the ashes in the sea.” I was surprised by the casualness and lightheartedness with which they brought up this so far taboo subject. They had never even made a will, as if the very thought would bring upon bad luck if not death itself. “I would like to have a tree burial — two trees side by side — in your backyard.” My mother told me. I didn’t know what to say for a moment when she added, “so that’s settled.”
The thought of my parents as two trees growing side by side in my backyard made me happy. When I called Peter and told him about this, he said but what if we sell the house?