The Middle Kingdom

Old Liao spent most of his hours watching the trains through the window.

He ignored his grandchildren’s noisy inattention as they ran around the apartment with their phones and music.

He remembered how he had respected his own grandmother, a raisin-faced woman whom none in his village could remember ever being young.

Liao watched a locomotive pulling a string of cars that stretched beyond the horizon. This world so different than his childhood, the Communist school taught  in a mountainside shack, the iron pots of barley gruel cooked over charcoal, Mao’s soldiers in muddy green coveralls and red-star caps.

Different even from when as a young man he came to the hungry city of shovels and saws, twelve-hour days pouring concrete and laying tile.

He smiled and pulled his shawl close around his shoulders, felt his bones beneath the skin of his wrists.

None of these children could imagine him being young either.

What Pegman Saw: Xinhua China

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Add Yours
  1. Lynn Love

    There’s a world weariness about your character but a real wisdom too. He’s seen so much change, experienced so much, forgotten more than other people remember. Beautiful writing, fantastic inner world you’ve created

  2. Iain Kelly

    The story of a nation and a people encapsulated in one man’s story. Sitting watching the trains go by doesn’t sound like a bad way to see out those last few years as things wind down.

  3. Alicia Jamtaas

    I think this is one of your best! The descriptions (noisy inattention, a raisin-faced woman whom none in his village could remember ever being young, hungry city of shovels) the tempo. Just lovely, Josh.

  4. Joy Pixley

    So much personal history and national history packed into one story, great job! I especially like the generational commentary at the end, the idea that whatever is new when you are young will be old when you are old, and the youngsters of later generations will never really understand what you do because their lives are so different. Of course, I might be biased, having just had a frustrating conversation with a young man about how “old” clocks (that is, analog versus digital) are stupid because they’re hard to read. Sigh.

Don't just stand there.