By Mrs. Jennifer Bacchus (AMC)June 11, 2010
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. - Da Chen, author of Colors of the Mountain and other books about his native China, was the keynote speaker for Anniston Army Depot's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month events on May 26 at the DeSoto Pastime Center and Berman Varner House.
Chen spoke about his childhood in an isolated part of southern China and ended each speech by playing songs for the 230 total attendees on his bamboo flute. During the breakfast for night shift workers, he played the first tune his father taught him as a child. At lunchtime, for the crowd gathered in Berman Varner House, the song was "Danny Boy."
"Bamboo has so many meanings in my life," said Chen, remarking on the picture of bamboo on the program for the events. "I am holding a bamboo flute and every day I eat with bamboo chopsticks."
Chen's grandfather was a landowner during the time of the Communist revolution, so Chen and his family suffered abuse at the hands of the government. He said the love of his family and friends got him through the difficulties he faced in childhood.
He and his wife, an American-born Chinese he calls "the most beautiful gift this country has given me," have two children, and Chen said he is amazed when he compares their childhood to his own.
"Their childhood is full of beginnings. My childhood was not," he said.
As a child, Chen had the daily job of gathering manure left on the village roads by cattle and other animals to fertilize the rice fields, though the typhoon season would often decimate the village's crops, leaving them with barely any rice to eat.
Chen said he grew up as a "skinny, big-headed boy." He was skinny because there was little to eat in his household and big-headed because he dreamed of leaving his small village and seeing the world.
"Being big-headed saved me. I had these wonderful dreams and my parents were able to instill in me that there are better things outside the village and beyond the mountains," said Chen.
He took the opportunities life offered him, like learning English from a missionary and going to college at Beijing Languages and Culture University and, later, at Columbia University, where he studied law on a full scholarship.
Chen encouraged the audience to find their talent and use it to become the best person they can be. He said that, though he worked as a lawyer and a banker, he didn't find his true calling in life until he became a writer.
"The more I wrote, the more I realized that this is my genius, this is my talent," said Chen. "So, I became a storyteller."
Chen has published six books based on his life in China including one work of fiction, a children's book entitled Wandering Warrior.