Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple, by Frances Chung
The phrase ‘no man is an island’ has often been used to describe human nature that leads us to need other people. Those we can relate to and forge relationships as well as those who we cannot relate to make up an important part of our lives. Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple are works by Frances Chung, a young Chinese woman who writes about life in Chinatown. She expresses her displeasure with the district; however, at the same time, she acknowledges it as her home. Home is the place where she seeks refuge and finds solace. She has family that appreciates her as a person; yet, she wishes she lived in a better, cleaner, modernized and less congested place. However, she remains in Chinatown due to financial constrains and depression that had hit everyone. It is clear, though, that she loves her community, her home and what it represented to the Chinese people.
Chinatown to Frances is a ‘Chinese wonderland’, a place that has been reduced by academicians to a marvel for the public. She feels that ‘her’ people are being belittled and reduced into ‘imaginary’ people while, to her, they are a family and are real. She is particularly angered by the apparent look of surprise on the tourists’ faces when they see small Chinese children going to school; it seems they do not expect them to learn like other children. To Frances, academicians have inhibited growth in Chinatown and made a mockery of the non-English speaking Chinese people.
Frances regards Chinatown as a ghetto. Some call it a slum or a home. Chinatown was her home according to her. It is a place where she belonged since she felt safe and secure. She did not have to act in a particular way to fit in or to meet certain social standards. Analyzing her thoughts and ideas from another angle shows her displeasure at the living conditions of Chinatown. It is congested and dirty. The words ‘ghetto’ and ‘slum’ might have been used to describe the kind of people living in Chinatown and the level of their poverty and the kind of environment they had to live in: dirty and unhygienic.
In a language that does not belong to her, she indicates that she might have considered Chinatown her home. However, it is evident that, at times, she felt she was not one of them. It was as if the people of her community did not understand her. Admittedly, Chinatown is much more than just the Chinese people. She had Italian girlfriends when she was young. Because of her interaction with people from diverse backgrounds, Frances might have picked specific language from them. She exhibits a more refined and intelligent character; that is evident in her words. To her, they were being forced to leave the world of the majority. It was Frances’s venture to learn more about the world that surrounded him as opposed to the mentality that people had in regard to the surrounding. She made a bold step of moving from what is considered her cocoon to learn different languages. In her work, she wants to prove that the Chinese people living in Chinatown are intelligent and courageous to learn other people‘s cultures. Learning a different language proved to the world that Chinese people were intelligent like others. This was her way of rebelling against the mode of living that she had been forced into: a life of submission and ignorance.
“To walk freely I have to walk in the gutter...”; this statement shows her distaste for the freedom that she had been robbed of; it was easier for the traffic to move to Chinatown, but not for people, at least not ‘her’ people, to move out. The American Chinese business men had built big night clubs to attract the rich. The magnificent and classy clubs were not the place for the have-nots. Frances was saddened by the fact that her people were not allowed to enjoy such luxuries. They knew they were not meant for them, and they had to settle for less glamorous places. She understood and detested her position, yet she did not want pity. She had love for her people but did not want to see what they went through. However, they had to endure. She knew that the ignorance was keeping them where they were.
Frances appreciates the relaxed atmosphere in Chinatown, especially during holidays and Chinese festivals; then they all celebrated without any worry and troublesome thoughts. She remembers the days when she would sit on their doorsteps with family and friends, telling stories and chasing after locusts. She shows appreciation for their traditions and tells of how the current generation had tried to uphold their traditional values. With each passing day, the outside world posed a greater threat to these convictions. Chinatown provided an opportunity for the young to socialize and learn from each other. Due to socialization, the young, the old, the rich and the poor, the black and the white shared their cultures. The people from diverse backgrounds in Chinatown had a chance to learn about other cultures. During holidays, the people in Chinatown used to live as one big community.
The outside world, however, discriminated against the Chinatown people. They suffered from marginalization and discrimination. They were used as a source of cheap labor and paid much more less than what they really deserved. In addition, they were provided with raw materials. The finished products that were made were sold for a much higher price than the Chinese were awarded for their work. Their commodities were sold for a higher price as compared to what the Chinese were paid as well.
Frances Chung, however, does not fail to mention the beauty that Chinatown held. She acknowledges that indeed, “there is a beautiful mixture of races,” when the Chinese intermarried with the Indians. She uses the sentence “... Old lean Chinese men with young looks on their faces” to show appreciation for her senior citizens. According to Frances, life in Chinatown was much more relaxed and free from all the troubles of the world. This led to young people looking old and the old looking even older. The young and the old went out to play mah-jong at night. Women had their liberty to breast feed during day time in public. They seemed to have accepted their fate and learnt to do the best they could with the little that they had.
The phrase ‘life is what we make of it’ makes a lot of sense in this case. Frances exhibits love for her town as well as a distaste and hate for the level of uncleanliness and the conditions in which they all had to live. “ I have two China moods, times when Chinatown is a terrible place to live in, times when Chinatown is the only place to live in.” She strongly disagrees with the treatment that the outside world gave them. They should have had better living conditions and not been taken advantage of just because they did not ‘belong’. Her people were discriminated as well as abused. This was because they were in a land that was not their own, a land in which they were perceived as inferiors and foreigners. Although Chung finds Chinatown to be a place that is not well kempt, she considers it the place where she ought to live.