I am the firstborn of four daughters. We each bear the Spirit (ling) in our names: Ai Ling, Shin Ling, Sze Ling, and Yee Ling. Growing up, Chinese relatives and friends often questioned my parents whether they were trying for a male offspring, which was never the case. My parents had decided on the number of children they desired long before any of us arrived. They thought four was a good number, and my youngest sister would agree.
My sisters and I are assured of our parents’ impartial favor and affection. Much of this is owned to my mother and grandmother's suffering. This is a story of a woman in her exile.
Preface, Part I
Ting Ming Hui was born the only daughter to a wealthy family in Fujian. Reflected in her name, she was an intelligent child. She was raised as the family’s treasure, receiving education equivalent to her seven brothers. Ming Hui was known particularly for her strength of will. She was the first woman in her family to have unbound feet. As a young child, she was conscious of her father’s tender heart, she screamed night and day, and begged for her feet to be free. Later, owing again to her strong will, she persuaded her parents to give her hand in marriage to the man she loved, Lim Hing Yu, a son to a rich merchant in town.
Their love story began triumphant and beautiful. Ming Hui bore two girls during their initial years of marriage. During the country’s political turmoil, in order to flee the draft for war, Hing Yu was forced by his family to escape to Indonesia. Ming Hui and her daughters were left behind the high walls of the Lim family, which was crumbling financially due to the economy. Soon, the Lim household lost all their businesses. Felt as though he had lost his face, Hing Yu’s father attempted suicide before his family. Ming Hui, the daughter-in-law, got on her knees and begged him to restrain himself, swore that she would provide for the household. Being the only woman in the family with unbound feet, she tended the garden, sold produce on the street, and fed the mouths of her in-laws, their children, and her own daughters. Once treated as a precious jewel, Ming Hui was collecting dung for fertilizer with her bare hands.