背影 by 朱自清
The Image of His Back
I haven’t seen my father for more then two years already.
The thing that I can never forget though is
the image of his back.
That year’s winter, my grandmother died and
my father relinquished his post.
Lots of bad things happened during this time.
I had planned on going back home from Beijing to Xuzhou,
in order to help my father prepare the funeral.
I arrived in Xuzhou and seeing my father,
I caught sight of the yard in disarray and couldn't
help the tears from slipping out as I thought of
my grandmother again.
My father said, “Since stuff like this has already happened
there’s no need to be sad, the road to Heaven is open!”
When we returned home, my father sold our mortgage
to clear our debt, but also borrowed money
to use for the funeral.
These days our family’s circumstances are very bleak,
half because of the funeral arrangements while the
other half was because of my idle father.
After the funeral is over, my father wanted to
go to Nanjing for work, and I needed to go back to study
in Beijing, so we traveled together.
When we arrived in Nanjing,
we had friends who we went out sightseeing with for one day,
and the afternoon of the second day
I needed to cross the river to get to Pukou and
catch the train north.
Because my father was already busy,
we agreed on him not bothering to see me off.
Instead he asked a hotel waiter that he knew to accompany me.
My father told the waiter over and over again
to be very careful.
He was still not relieved, afraid that
the waiter would not do things right, and hesitated for a minute.
I was in fact already 20 at the time,
and had been to Beijing two or three times
without any problems arising.
He hesitated for another second,
and finally decided to send me off himself.
I tried two or three times to persuade him not to go,
but he said “Never mind, if he goes with you
it will be bad!” We crossed the river
and entered the station.
I bought my ticket and he looked after my luggage.
Because I had too much luggage,
I had to pay a small fee to the porter,
and only then could we go in.
He was busy arguing the price with the porter.
At that time, I thought I was so smart,
I thought that he didn't speak eloquently,
and I couldn’t help but interrupt his talking.
But he at last got the price he wanted,
and sent me to board the train.
He picked me out a chair that was by the door,
I took the purple coat he made me and laid
it out over the seat.
He urged me to be careful on the road,
be alert at night, and to not catch a cold.
He also asked the attendants to take good care of me.
Inside my heart I laughed at his over-protectiveness,
These people only know money, asking them to
do something like this... it’s useless. Furthermore,
I’m already an adult, why wouldn’t I be able to
take care of myself?
Well, thinking about it now,
I really thought I was too clever.
I said, “Dad, you should leave.”
He looked outside the train, saying,
“I brought a few tangerines.
Since your already here, don't move.”
I looked across the platform and saw
some customers waiting to buy things outside the fence.
To reach the platform, you had to cross
the train tracks, jump down and then crawl back up.
My father was a fat person, so to do that would not be easy.
I originally wanted to go, he wouldn’t agree,
so I couldn’t help but let him do it.
I saw him wearing a small black hat,
a black coat, dark green quilted gown,
stumbling towards the railway edge,
lowering his body to go down, still without any problems.
However, him crossing the tracks to climb up
over the other platform was not easy.
He used two hands to lift himself up,
pulled his two legs upward, his fat body collapsed
to the left, and his expression showed one of great effort.
At this moment, I saw his back,
My tears quickly started flowing.
I hurriedly wiped them, afraid that he or others had seen.
I looked outwards again; he was already
holding the vermillion colored tangerines and coming back.
Crossing the railway track, he first
put the tangerines down, then slowly lowered himself,
then picked up the tangerines again and walked.
At this time, I quickly went to assist him.
He and I walked to the train, and
I put the tangerines on top of my coat.
Then he brushed the dirt from his clothes,
seeming very at ease, and then said after a moment,
“I’m going now, when you get there send me a letter!”
I watched him leave.
He walked a few steps, turned back, and said,
“Go in now, there’s no one inside.”
When his back mixed in with the people coming
and going, and I couldn't find him again, my tears came back.
In recent years, My father and I are both
rushing about; our family situation getting worse and worse.
He left to seek work while he was young;
he did a lot of things alone to support himself.
How would he have known that
the situation would be this bad when he got older!
He has so many hardships,
but he cannot feel them himself.
In the feeling of melancholy,
I naturally wanted to send out my feelings,
family matters tended to make him angry.
He treated me differently from before.
But in these two years we haven’t met,
he eventually forgot the bad parts of me,
merely concerned for my son.
After going north, he wrote a letter to me,
the letter said “My body is healthy,
only my upper arm hurts, its painful to hold up
chopsticks and inconvenient to write. My time is nearing.”
When I read this line, my tears were glistening;
I saw his large body, and his black jacket.
Oh dear! I don't know when I will be able to meet with him again!
*To me this story seemed to tell the importance of appreciating
one's parents, despite their imperfections. Chinese culture,
and asian culture in general stresses the importance of filial piety.
Your parents, grandparents, and older people in general need to be
treated with the utmost respect. In korean, you even need to conjugate
your verbs differently based on who you are speaking to. The narrator
of the story looks back on his treatment of his father with regret
(if you look at the part with the porter), especially at the end.
We can see that the narrator is "playing it cool" by not showing
his appreciate or love for his father to his father's face,
and only crying when he turns his back. This is something that
I think everyone can relate to, because even I did this in
order to look "cooler" in front of my friends. But the author
tells us that we should show our love and appreciation
for others while they are still around because
we never know when they will not be here anymore.