A Poem About Happiness from a Chinese Stay-Home Kid

Here in HOK’s Corporate group in St. Louis I sit across the row from two brilliantly talented programmers in the firm’s Advanced Technology Group: Nag from Hyderabad, India, and Steven, aka ‘X-Dog,’ from Nanjing, China. HOK has offices and is doing lots of work in both India and China, so it’s always fascinating to hear their perspectives on the development frenzy taking place in their home countries. But this story is about the lives of the people being impacted by these historic changes – one life in particular.

Steven’s wife, Mary, also comes from Nanjing. The other day Steven asked for my help translating a poem written in Mandarin Chinese by Mary’s eight-year-old niece, XinXin, back in Nanjing. It seems XinXin needed to recite the poem in English to her young classmates and had asked for a little ‘outside’ help from her relatives in faraway St. Louis. As we spent our lunch hour translating a poem written by an eight-year-old girl who lives 7,000+ miles away, two things struck me:

1. In doing the translation, Steven and I discovered that there is no English language equivalent for a term that is very common in China: “stay-home kid.” Many children of migrant workers in the rural areas of China stay back home with their grandparents while their parents travel in search of work. Some of these stay-home children – like XinXin – are able to rejoin their parents if they are able to establish permanent jobs and homes in the city.

2. The poem is just beautiful.

Thanks to XinXin for letting me share a glimpse of life in Nanjing here on Life at HOK. Our poet’s last line indicates that she may one day be joining the firm as an urban designer!

I’m going to tell you about happiness

This is dedicated to everyone who cares about me:

In the past my name was “stay-home kid.”  

And now my name is “working-class kid.”

I’m going to tell you, 

Where is my happiness.

Where is my happiness?

My happiness is in the dark, shadowy corners of the city at night.

Although the lights here are dimmer than anywhere else in the city,   

Because my mother is always with me it’s the brightest place in my heart. 

Where is my happiness?

My happiness is in the bookstores of the city.  

Although no book belongs to me,   

It’s the holiest place in my heart where I can get free knowledge.

Where is my happiness?

My happiness is in the simplest, crudest school in the city. 

Although the facilities are older than any other school in this city,

It’s the happiest place in my heart because I am educated by kind and wise teachers.

Where is my happiness?

My happiness is on the lawn of the suburban playground. 

Although it’s not a park,

It’s the most relaxed place in my heart because it’s the home of my most wonderful childhood memories. 

Where is my happiness?

My happiness exists everywhere in my life. 

I am immersed in an ocean of happiness,   

One day I will help this city get better.

One Comment
  1. November 19th, 2008 - 7:14 pm
    Valerie said:

    This is beautiful, thank you for sharing!

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