Hu Fayun: A Never Delivered MP3 Player

Wuhan-based writer Hu Fayun (胡发云) published the following essay on his blog, translated by M. J.:

The Sichuan earthquake, in the first few days there was only talk of Wenchuan, Beichuan, only learned after a few days that Mianzhu was even worse. I immediately thought of a young friend with whom I became acquainted through literature. Last year, when my wife’s grandfather attended a centennial conference and I went to Ya’an, she even dropped by for a visit when I returned to Chengdu.

I called her immediately, her cell, her landline, all disconnected. Email and messages on QQ received no response for days. I went online to search her workplace, saw the numerous injured and devastation, and suddenly I saw a familiar apartment building, split, destroyed, in ruins – ten or so days before the earthquake, she had sent a group of photos, in which appeared those apartments where she had lived, and the nearby hills, woods, and the idle goats grazing nearby. Those goats were of a maroon color, a single glance would have you believe they were deer, adorable as they were.

Panicked, I left messages for her in frequented discussion groups, forums, and chat rooms, hoping to receive word from her or her family; finally, I found the name of one of her colleagues on an injury list of some hospital. I phoned, and found out that the colleague’s mother had seen my friend’s mother on the night of the earthquake. She just said that their house has been destroyed, but didn’t give any bad news about my friend. Finally, a sigh of relief. The colleague also said that on that fateful day, both my friend’s parents were home. When the earthquake began, the apartment building across from theirs collapsed to the ground as though it was sliding, stairs broke, and some people died. Yet her seven-story building stood firm like a pagoda. The colleague said that my friend’s father was very calm, found a soft gas pipe from the balcony and let down his wife from the seventh floor, and later disregarding the quake, even let down some downstairs neighbors, then finally slid down the pipe himself – in all this, the lone building incredulously did not fall.

A week later, I finally received a text message from my friend, who said that she had left her cell in the office and only returned to fetch it many days after the quake. Her family has moved to Deyang, where a couple of thousand people squeezed themselves into the sports stadium. Sometimes, because of aftershock, they have to sleep unsheltered on the streets. A second, and everything is gone, not even some clothes for changing. Another phone call later revealed to me that she was able to buy some clothes, and a tent, just large enough for her family of three. Internet, reading, and music have all become fantasies.

I said, I’ll buy you an MP3 player, with a lot of memory, and fill it with several hundred songs and music, and express mail it to you. She reacted like a joyous child.

I had sent her songs before via the web, and I know that she liked them.

I went to the city immediately and bought a 2G player with extra-long battery, one can listen to music for 30 continuous hours, since it would be inconvenient for her to recharge it. After I got home, I carefully combed through hundreds of classic songs, accumulated over the years, changed their formats, and for three days put them through many trials and rearrangements. Eagerly, I rushed to the post office. Unthinkably, a postal clerk pointed to a sign in the office and said to me, you can’t mail this, look at the regulations, what you have belongs to the electronics listed under Category Nine. I couldn’t believe my ears and had to ask her to repeat herself. Upon hearing the same reply, I was furious, and said, ignition lighters and pressure cookers and hair dryers are all electronics, are you telling me I can’t mail any of those either? Do you have a detailed list? My friend, she has nothing, can’t she even listen to music? The way you’re behaving now, what, are you gearing up for bankruptcy or something?

She looked as if she had her hands tied, and told me that I can file a complaint, and then gave me a number to call. I called, and the other end told me that MP3s are restricted, because all electronics are, because of security for the Olympics. I said, an earthquake close to the magnitude of 8.0 didn’t break people down, will an MP3 do so? The voice on the other end just said over and over again that these were the instructions from above.

This is a country with no reason and an era with no place for appeal. To think that those restricted items included “powders,” “liquids,” “soap-like” descriptions, I thought of baby formulas and medicines for the sick. And as for square shaped items, I thought of those hundreds of thousands of items belonging to Class Nine, all banned from mail for as long as four months (June 1 to October 1 2008), just because some people will do some runs and jumps and throw a few lead balls in some city, a deep sense of absurdity loomed over me.

A thumb sized MP3 was never delivered.

I could only call my friend to let her know, and she too was stunned, and asked, it’s not like you’re mailing it to Beijing, just to the mountains of Sichuan. What are they afraid of?

I said, let’s wait, these four months will pass.