Tsang Lai Mei, Lily was born in a small industrial village on the outskirts of Guangzhou in the mid-1980s, her parents both workers in a nearby factory, though her mother was the daughter of a formerly esteemed professor at a nearby university who also lived with them in their tiny abode, helping to raise their one treasured child. Lily’s father and grandfather both wanted nothing more than for her to know of the world outside, beyond the factory and beyond their borders, and to equip her with every possible piece of knowledge and tool to help her excel, rise above and escape. But whereas her father’s picture of motivation was provided by Western TV and American clients, her grandfather’s was a much more staid and formal one as demonstrated through the language and culture lessons he taught her via old copies of The Economist or Le Monde.
To look at Lily she was nothing extraordinary. She seemed to have more shape than other local girls her age and as a result wore baggy clothes to disguise this fact, but the ill-fitting clothes had the unflattering effect of making her look more chubby than inconspicuous, and for this Lily was abused at times quite harshly by her classmates. School outside of class was all but intolerable, but Lily persevered because she knew — everyone in her family reminded her every waking moment — how lucky she was to be receiving an education at all, and especially the one that was being provided to her at this particular school by favor of one of her grandfather’s old friends. She was the poorest among her classmates so in addition to appearing larger and acting more cerebrally aloof, Lily was also treated like a charity case by both students and by teachers and she hated it; she hated the pity and she hated being different for all the wrong reasons. As such, very early on Lily had learned to compensate by exploiting and trading anything that she had to offer in exchange for being less ostracized than she otherwise would have been.
Whatever the exact intent had been of the dichotomous aspirations provided by her father and grandfather, when married with her desire to escape her environment both at home and at school – the station into which she had been born – they conspired to create a young girl who only wanted one thing: out. Lily, in addition to being educated and bright, was talented creatively and after finishing school decided to rest on that gift for her future rather than pursuing anything more academic. She also, though, discovered her own unique beauty and the power of influence and distraction it could wield. As a result, she often chose a path to the next rung on the ladder her family did not intend and of which they would have never approved.
Lily is no different than any girl or boy born anywhere in the world; she is a subject of her birth, a product of her environment and a victim of her desires, both material and physical. She is inevitably shaped by the ever-changing, “next” thing she wants in life – whether it is worthy of her desire and sacrifice or not – rather than by what she innately knows to be right. In the end, she may succeed, but by her definition of it; one which makes no allowances for happiness or rest.
Click here to read selected excerpts from A Jaded Lily.