the story of the beast with those four dirty paws

My father always told me brief stories about where he grew up, in a tiny tiny village deep deep within the mountainside that still remains unmarked on maps today. It always seemed like a fairytale, or at least a sort of living you read about in outdated history books. I imagined a small, stone house nestled high within a clustering of mountains and valleys and a simple simple yet quite beautiful and peaceful kind of living. Well, I finally had the chance to make the trek into the mysterious place my father grew up and I have to say…it was nearly exactly how I had imagined it.

Story interlude: we were chugging along driving to the village; I was quite surprised that we could even get to it by car since there were no roads whatsoever 15 years ago. After zooming up and down small roads and sharp turns we were met by the delightful news that a bridge—the only bridge leading to where we needed to go—was under construction. Half of it was taken down so that it looked impossible to fit a sedan through. "No worries!" though, the villagers shouted, "you can certainly pass!" Folks, even I was doubtful, but as I have learned, you may as well trust the villagers if you have no other choice—we made it across.

youuuuuu shall nottttt....
I won’t go in to the nitty of family history quite yet, but basically my father grew up here with his foster parents who love him more than I’ve ever seen his real parents do. It was a heartbreaking sort of experience, meeting them again as an adult capable of comprehending the complexity of their situation rather than as a 5-year-old child excited to play with chickens (I was still, however, very excited to play with chickens). Their soft spoken kindness and generosity brought me to tears.


The lifestyle is simple but the air and the water are lovely fresh here, untouched yet by neither smog nor (unfortunately) modern thinking. It broke my heart to meet their youngest daughter—beautiful, clever, hardworking—who is already a grandmother and obligated to stay in the mountains to raise pigs, just because she is the youngest. And a woman. Sun sets rather quickly in the winter time, where it’s off to bed to drift off to sleep before one is too aware of the cold that creeps into every orifice of the stone house during the night.

There is not a beast but a loyal pregnant dog that lives with my foster-grandparents here and helps watch over the pigs. She became my fast friend, accompanying me as I went around to explore. She gazes out into the mountains every now and then, just as my grandpa does, pining each day for my father to return.

*post title is from "Dirty Paws" / Of Monsters & Men


  1. Lisa... I've enjoyed checking your blog every now and then, when it shows up on my Facebook feed.

    Just some context about your dad's bio family. Our grandmother really is an ignorant, uneducated person (whose ability to express herself in writing is truly no greater than that of a third grader) who was raised by our grandfather's family from a young age, with the intention that she would marry our grandfather. I really believe that they tried their best when they adopted out your dad. Our grandparents had six kids that were all born immediately before and during the Great Leap Forward.

    Growing up, my dad had rope burns on his back from being held after he illegally attempted to cross the border to Hong Kong twice. On the third try, he got caught again, but managed to break out on a rainy night and make the border crossing. My parents believe that if he had not escaped, he would have been beaten to death. Instead, our grandfather got beaten severely in his place. No one has explicitly said to me that the beating was the cause of his death, but he passed away around the same time that my dad went to Hong Kong.

    My dad carries a tremendous amount of guilt that influences a lot of his actions to this day. My dad obtained a green card for everyone in his immediate family, including his mother, of whom he is incredibly protective, and for your family, too. You and Li don't remember it, but we Laws came to see you right away when you arrived in Boston. You were really small but Li and I played a bit. Later on there were some years when my family didn't necessarily get along, but that's between our parents' generation. Your dad was nice enough to help me move from D.C. to Philly a few years ago -- he and my dad brought a truck and did the road trip together.

    Anyway, the point is, our parents' generation and grandparents' generation had a tough life. Our grandmother was really ill-equipped for a lot of the events of her life. She's not an expressive woman, she never knew what to do with herself after she arrived in the U.S. and she's really growing more feeble these days. What you may observe is not necessarily how your dad's bio-family really feels, and of course, we Law family kids are really happy to have reconnected with you guys in recent years.

  2. Pauline--

    I am so glad to hear all of this from you! I understand that there is much, much tension that remains to be resolved with our parents' generation and I can safely speak for Li and I when I say that we have truly appreciated getting to know your family better over the past few years and coming together.

    I wish that I had spent more time with you and your family before I had left for this project, but the turnaround time between school and leaving for China was really tight (not to mention having strep...ugh). I am in pursuit of this project to try and understand the full story behind my father, rather than the one or maybe two sides I heard from him growing up. I know that his past is filled with tragedy and difficult decisions, and I know that he inevitably has hard feelings towards some people at some points of his life (but with him I never really know who...). So I started this project to get the full story.

    I have had the good fortune of being able to meet my father's mountainside family in the time I've had here and it was a revelatory experience. I could go on forever, seeing as how my father's story just seems to get more and more complicated as I dig along, but in summary I have learned how much Father has had to make the best of his situation growing up.

    To be less vague, I know how much the Law family means to our family. I know how fundamentally crucial your own father's actions affected my--well, existence in the first place--family. And I am thankful for that. In fact, I had always planned along to hear the story from him himself of coming to Hong Kong and I will be interviewing him as soon as I get back home, which I am really really really excited about, because it's a story I've heard from my parents from time to time, but never from him.

    This trip has been great in getting the full picture of my father, as it can be so easy to just listen to what you hear growing up and believe in it. I never did so, however, because I knew from the start it was a more complex story than what he said or she did, what actions meant what, etc. (you know as much as I do how frustrating it can be when our parents base questionable resentment towards people with such vague reasons!!).

    Thank you for that context, as I really love hearing more and more about the story and wish to do my best in presenting the most accurate, least biased view I possibly can. I can't wait to see you sometime again hopefully soon!

  3. Lisa, I'm glad that you're taking up this study of your dad's story. It seems that every person of our parents' generation has a tragic story. I came a lot further in my understanding of my parents and their actions once I began studying Chinese history. Because my parents are generally reticent about their own history, studying modern Chinese history has been a vehicle for me to study my personal history.

    I don't think it is biased to mention your foster grandparents' deep love for your father -- it is a blessing that does not take away from the relationship that your dad has with us today. I don't know that all of our shared aunts and uncles would have made it to adulthood otherwise.

    As a kid, I had strong opinions about how little my dad was involved with my childhood activities; he was, and still is, singularly unequipped to be a dad to an American child. When I would so brazenly criticize his lack of involvement, his response was always that, as a child, his dad was considered a good dad if he could manage to provide two meals a day. Two, not three.

    Keep in touch when you get back to Dartmouth. I'm really not that far from you. How cool to be a Luo/Law woman continuing with our family's legacy as scholars of history. :)


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