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Bend, Not Break

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It was love, Fu writes, that enabled her to survive the brutality of camp life. She leaned heavily on the memory of the unconditional affection she had known from her adoptive mother and the Taoist wisdom taught her by her adoptive father. Sometimes she would puzzle her way out of a bad situation by asking herself what her parents would have done in that same case. She helped to sustain herself by caring for her biological sister – several years her junior – who was imprisoned with her.

But there was also a series of small kindnesses that helped to lift Fu up. An unknown benefactor sometimes slipped a little extra food in her bucket – an act that she says made her feel “a little safer” and taught her that “even under the worst of circumstances” people can “choose to be good.” An uncle who was able to visit once briefly told Fu that she was “precious” – a remark that she would “hold on to tightly” and “never let ... go.” He also left behind a copy of “Gone With the Wind” – a book that she devoured, inspired by its story of survivors living in a country where “feelings and opinions were expressed openly without fear of repercussions.”

Later Fu was given a factory job in the camp making car parts. Here, she excelled, and writes that the joy of doing good work  – and being appreciated by  fellow workers – gave her a feeling of “elation” and the sense that “I was a somebody at last.”

Eventually Fu made it out of the camp and into a Chinese university – only to be ejected from the country for a “crime.” Her birth father was able to arrange a spot for her at the University of New Mexico. On her own, she left for the United States without “a single spare dollar” in her pocket, only three words of English in her vocabulary, and a single distant contact in her new homeland. Her trip was almost derailed when she arrived in San Francisco and discovered that the traveler’s checks she was carrying were $5 shy of being able to buy her a plane ticket to Albuquerque. At that point a stranger stepped forward and paid the difference. Fu never saw him again but says she will never forget the lesson that he taught her: “When in doubt, always err on the side of generosity.”

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