Turtle Or Sloth

Sloth or turtle? I ask myself. Probably turtle, since sloths only exist in South America, not Asia. Turtles are a different story–they are everywhere. I will call myself a turtle then, though I still need to become more patient to be worthy of the name.

Turtle is my grandma’s favorite animal. Not that she kept pet turtles–she’s too busy raising her eight children and several grandchildren to be bothered with pets. Not that she had turtle decorations–she’s too economical to waste money on useless objects. However she talked of turtles as a symbol of longevity and she ate turtles as a method of ingesting that essence of longevity into her body. I often questioned her method since once you eat that turtle, it loses its life and consequently loses its longevity then and there. Does it still have a spirit of long life, whatever that spirit is, to offer to you? For whatever reason, I never talked with her about this. Not because she’s authoritarian or overbearing. She’s not. She’s more intelligent than any of my other relatives, more open and more flexible. She spoke a dialect that I couldn’t understand and I spoke the modern standard tone she didn’t know. Among all the grandchildren, only my brother grew up with her and understood her. Between my grandma and me, there’s only most basic conversations and sign languages. Surprisingly, we understood each other pretty well, but we couldn’t communicate anything complicated. The existential question of a turtle’s spirit definitely belongs to the realm beyond our linguistic scope.

At the time I was attending a well known boarding school very close to my grandma. This is why I visited her every weekend. My parents were living about six hundred miles away, only reachable by monthly letters and train ride during school breaks. I was fifteen and very dispirited, living in a new city and away from my old familiar environment. Saying that the food is awful is a compliment to what we ate in school. It not only tasted awful, but also very unhygienic, and in meager portions. I had no choice but to go to my grandma every weekend to have better meals. Then one weekday, for whatever reason, I went to see my grandma. I couldn’t remember why. It took me one and half hours to ride the bus to go to my grandma and I wouldn’t be able to do it during weekdays, but somehow I did it that particular day. My grandma was surprised to see me, but didn’t say anything. She was in the communal kitchen downstairs and I went upstairs to the living quarter. There under a big mesh food cover on the table, I found a bowl of stewed turtle.

“This is what they eat when I’m not here.” I said to myself and felt betrayed. What an ungrateful youth I was.

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