ava explains to you what bookbear express is

The first day I made this Substack I asked five friends to subscribe so it wouldn’t be too depressing when I sent out an email. They all agreed, but only one or two people actually subscribed (I appreciate you!). Six months later many more of you are here. I’m so happy that you read these little dispatches and really appreciate all the thoughts you send my way.

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Thanks for reading me

This is an email from my mom in response to a Substack essay I wrote:

Re: shame

I was born in a very small coal mining village in northern China. I still remember the descriptive slang of my birth town:

One road along one road lamp
One speaker listened by all 
One Main Street with one traffic station
One park with one monkey

It was a rural place with mountains of ash left over from coal refineries. Kids my age climbed on them. We did not know how the coal mining could affect the air quality until many years later when a lot of my relatives died from lung cancer.

I lived in an area with small connected houses of seven families each, and public washrooms at the far end in terrible condition. We played with the kids from this street and all the information you learned was from the people around you. If you had good news, you felt fortunate that it spread so fast. Bad news spread even faster.

If you argued with your spouse, the next day all the neighbors knew what happened. 

It was very hard to have any secrets of your own. You knew almost everyone. Nothing would be omitted among these people.

The very first time I learned shame was from my uncle’s wedding dinner. I sat with a group of middle-aged women and they were talking about my new aunt. The gossip was that she was pregnant before the wedding. It was scandalous at the time and meant the lady was not a traditionally recognized nice wife who fit the social standing. I was quite young but still I could recognize the underlying emotion flowing, the way everyone looked down at her. That was the first time I understood shame. I made up my mind that I should avoid being judged by others in situations like this. 

This experience reshaped me in a major way—that’s how culture influences you.

My high school English teacher, a handsome and gentle young man, was shamed by everybody because of his girlfriend’s suicide before their wedding. He eventually had to leave the town.

I recently read a novel called Waiting by Ha Jin. It’s the story of a man and the woman he loves waiting 18 years to consummate their relationship because he is unable to go through with his divorce. This is an exact description of what shame does to people.

When I got my first job after graduation from university, I worked for a television manufacturer located in southern China with oceanic weather for 8 months. I was shamed by others around me for not speaking Cantonese and for not changing clothes every day. (At that time, people living in northern China could only go to public showers every week. Cloths were only washed only once a week.)

People will judge you only with their customs. It does not matter if they know you or not. 

In the beginning when I experienced shame I wished I could rewind those moments—I wished they never happened.

Time went by. Now we live in an entirely online world. People could be judged even more, whenever or whatever. Sometime I read the comments of blogging, I was deeply surprised by how ruled people can be. The online culture is very dangerous in many circumstances. It could raise you up overnight, and it can cut you down in a second.

I spoke broken English for a while at my first job in Canada. I remember co-workers quoting one of my funny voice messages: I am currently not on my desk. But they also told me if they were in China, it would be worse for them. Their kindness helped me a lot. I tell myself when it happens, it happens. There is no shame for it. 

These days, no one will shame someone for having sex before their wedding—you might be shamed for not having sex before wedding.

Enjoy life, it’s a completely unpredictable experience. When you’re older, you might be like me and have funny stories to your kids and grandkids....

Repeat after me: Shame is the opposite of art. I hope this Substack will always be a space that encourages self-expression. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that my mom reads my essays and felt inspired to respond. Nothing makes me happier than reading you guys’ emails.

Thanks for encouraging me to put aside my shame!

- Ava