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Aunty Icy Bean MAG
“Ji Bing” – that's how you say my aunt's name in Chinese. “Bing” means ice in Chinese, but in English, people often confuse it with “bean.” That is how my aunt's nickname originated. At least that's the story my cousin and I were always told. We call her Aunty Icy Bean, not that she would understand us.
See, my aunt lives in China. She was born in China, went to school in China, has lived in China her whole life, and speaks limited English. This language barrier has never come between Aunty Bean and me. When I was in elementary school, I would visit her in China every sun-soaked summer, and as far as I knew, she was the best person in the world and I never wanted her to change. I believed there was no one on earth who could live up to Aunty Icy Bean. So the adventure we had one summer night only reinforced my belief. It was one of the best nights in all of my eight years.
It began in a beautiful apartment on the west side of Cheng Du, the city where my mom was raised. The apartment was quite a sight – mostly because my aunt lived there. Anything she touched was beautiful to me. My mom was watching a romantic Chinese DVD, and I, being just eight, was absolutely disgusted at the display of affection between the characters (though they were actually just kissing). Aunty Bean was reclined on the armchair next to my mother, combing her hair. My aunt had beautiful long brown hair. She sometimes curled it, and sometimes left it straight. It framed her face and softened her bold features. She was beautiful inside and out, and her amazing hair only added to this beauty.
Aunty Bean put down her brush, looked over and took pity on me, noticing my face tense with disgust at the movie. She stretched, stood up, and said, “Tian Tian (my Chinese name), come help me in the kitchen, will you?” Glad to have a reason to leave the room, I eagerly followed her.
“Tian Tian, is there anything in particular that you would like to do tonight?” she asked. I stood on my tip-toes and whispered my one wish in her ear. She smiled. “Sister!” my aunt called to my mother. “I am going out to buy some buns for tomorrow morning. Okay if I take Tian Tian with me?”
“Don't be out too late,” Mom replied.
And that was that: an easy get-away. We slipped out the door, down the elevator, onto her electric bike, and out into the night.
I still remember that night as if it were yesterday. It was amazing, feeling the wind race through my hair as Aunty Bean and I zipped through the crowded city, occasionally stopping so she could tighten her grip on me. Lights and sounds seemed to flutter by as we rode down the streets.
Our first stop was for some ice cream. The ice cream in China is very different from in America. There are few flavors like chocolate or vanilla. Instead the stores are stocked with exotic fruit flavors. The one I wanted had a blueberry base and was bejeweled with multi-colored and flavored gems jaggedly sticking out of the popsicle. It was like nothing I had ever seen, and so I grabbed the last one, paid the manager (who said I had great taste in ice cream) and headed out with Aunty Bean.
We hopped back onto her motorbike and headed toward our next destination: West Spring Street, or in Chinese, Chun Xi Lu. This is my favorite place in China. It's like a more crowded, less expensive version of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Small shops are scattered across the huge street, and hundreds of tourists rush about, trying to make last-minute purchases before shops close for the night. Aunty Bean and I were in no hurry though. In fact, that night we didn't buy a single item. We just walked around aimlessly, occasionally visiting a store that caught my eye.
After a while, we got tired and sat on a public bench. “Tian Tian, you are like a daughter to me. I love you so much,” Aunty Bean told me.
“Aunty Bean, you are like my second mother. I wish we could all have two mothers! If we could, I would choose you!” She kindly laughed, the laugh that always reassured me every time I heard it – the laugh that seemed to diminish in the coming years, and the laugh that I long to hear today, but I had no way of knowing that then. All I knew was that with one hand I held hers and in the other was my ice cream. The night couldn't have been any better.
It was getting late, so we had to go home. I finished my ice cream, and we headed back to the electric bike. Once again, we zipped through the city, which was now quieter, as if it were unwinding from a busy day. Soon the city would be asleep, and so would I. I leaned into my aunt, relishing the warmth of her arms, feeling as safe as a child could feel, and fell asleep for the rest of the ride home, dreaming that we would stay like this forever.
Aunty Bean is still one of my favorite people. She is one of those rare folk who leave a long-lasting positive impression on you. Someone you can never forget or replace. Sadly, Aunty Bean was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. The doctors said it could not be fully cured. This summer, they told my mom that it had spread and that they were doing the best they could to prolong her life.
This leads me to question why sometimes the good die young – why does God take away so many good people at such a young age? Perhaps it is because they deserve to be in heaven more than the rest of us.
I only saw her once since she was diagnosed. She had recently undergone chemotherapy, and her hair fallen out. Her beautiful long hair was replaced with short brown bristles, and she had lost a lot of weight. She asked me, “Do you still recognize me, Tian Tian?” How could I not? She is still my Aunty Bean – my favorite person – and now with her long hair out of her face, Aunty Bean's bold features shine through. Her strong personality is no longer hidden by her thick locks.
To me, she doesn't seem like a victim of cancer. She seems as strong as ever, and when Aunty Bean smiles her kind smile, I realize that she may have changed, but she is just as she has always been: beautiful inside and out.
That day, she took my hand in hers, just like before, and I realized that no matter what, the bond we share will never change.