jun lei

United States

she/her | sophomore
running off into the sunset with calypso

"tell them i was a bitch."
- agustdv

renaming: reclaiming.

June 14, 2020


when you are born, you are blank. your skeleton is an easel and your skin a canvas and your ribs a row of fountain pens and that is all. your ink-stained veins ache with possibility. 
the streets pluck a pen and roll it between their fingers. they are hesitant. they do not want to do this. but they are empty, and you are alone, and so they do their duty. they scrawl abandoned across your temples (sacrilege), where it burns like a brand. the moon does not weep. you are not the first of the lost children, the left children, and she has no tears left to cry. but the stars watch, peering through the veil of smog. they always do. 

the woman finds you, and you are no longer alone. the ink glints under the moon's gaze. you push a wail from between your lips and it is a wild, lonely thing. 
she presses a fingertip to your forehead and smudges the letters. spits saliva into her palms and rubs until you are blank again. 
she selects a pen and anoints your temples with ink. her hands are not shadowed with hesitancy. she names you ai li. she names you strong. she names you beautiful. 
she names you loved. 
but you cannot see her words. 

it was always others who wrote upon your skin. found, scrawled your adoptive mother, the cursive letters tapering into knife-tips. soul sister, wrote your friend in an elegant script. i love you? wrote your brother, his handwriting sloppy, simple, and stained with actions that spoke louder than his words ever could. 

but chinese is tattooed upon one wrist, and american stamped upon the other: chinese-american, yet the american nullifies everything that comes before. and you loathe it. 
you scour the blog of a white woman who manages to know more about your culture than you do, and you pick up a pen. a thousand dragonflies burst into flight between your ribs, sending tremors skittering along your bones: your hand shakes. 
jun lei, you name yourself. you think it pretty. you call yourself chinese. 
and yet every word stamped upon your skin is written in the alphabet of the american people. 

you discover discarded scrapbooks in the attic, piled into an old cardboard box and forgotten. you part the pages. 
there is a fat baby dressed in pastel pinks, gazing at the camera with wide, lonely eyes: you. 
there you are again, in a striped pink blouse and belly like a kangaroo's pouch, offering a half-chewed, saliva-adorned cookie toward the photographer. here, your eyes say. 
there is a woman with hair brushed back into a knot and sharp cheekbones and the kind of smile that looks like the sun spills from her lips: who is she? 
there is a family. they sit in a small storefront, the shelves lined with packets and jars, the floor covered by wooden pallets upon which sit sacks spilling something colored in bright reds and yellows.  the mother perches, smiling, on a scarlet stool with peeling paint, another woman beside her. a shy boy stands in the background, his brother offering a grin and a peace sign. the nana is still intent upon her work. and the girl. 
she has a round face and slanting eyes and a short ponytail and a bright smile and a pink shirt with a butterfly. 
you wonder if you could have been her. 
you turn the page. 

a fat baby with a familiar face peers up at you from the pages of her immigrant visa. 
us consulate guangzhou. 
surname: feng. 
given name: ai li. 
you are stunned. your brain has short-circuited: you don't think it works anymore. 

you go downstairs and log on to your mother's laptop to search her files. you find the adoption form and you discover that you were adopted from the fengcheng social welfare institute. 
her name was feng ai li, a document says. as if that is a part of you that can be erased.

you learn that you were not named by your mother, but by the orphanage. feng was the surname given to all orphans, a barcode for the left behind. but ai li, it is yours. it is yours to reject and it is yours to accept. 

you print out the forms. fill them out. your hands are not shadowed with hesitancy.

you rename yourself ai-li jun-lei feng. a girl with enough wind in her lungs to breathe life into the words she has always needed to say. a girl neither chinese nor american but the daughter of both countries. a girl: loved.

you are not choosing blood family over legal family. you are a feng, you are a lost child, a left child: this is a reminder that you belong to no one but yourself. you are jun lei, the girl who ached for ancestors across the sea.

you are ai li. beautiful love, it means. strong love. you will not reject it. not that of the mother who was forced to leave you. not that of the mother who chose to find you. not that of a woman who told you, from the moment she saw you, that you were loved.

you have accepted all of it.



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  • Wisp

    Replying: Oh you are a sweetheart. I miss the good old days, but I'm glad you're still here, even if you don't tend to post often. And of course you're welcome for the comments! Your writing is a beauty that more people need to appreciate!

    about 2 months ago
  • Wisp

    Liked this a couple days ago and never commented because I couldn't get my words together, so here we go!
    There was a time when you paid tribute to the artist Qinni in your message to readers box, saying you loved her drawings because she drew like a dreamer. You said her drawings made you dream, that they made you feel something in the way that writing does. Something along those lines.
    Well, I have to tell you that reading your writing makes me dream in the way looking at Qinni's art does. People say words aren't an art, but they are. They truly truly are. And your writing shows that, it shows an art that goes beyond surface level, that dives deeper into what it means to be an artist. And every time I read your writing, it's like breaking the surface of what people think is a form of art. Your writing is an art that I adore. It makes me dream and it makes me smile. And this is a blubbering mess, but jun lei, you write like a dreamer and I hope that never fades away.

    about 2 months ago
  • I Write Occasionally

    Absolutely stunning. Well done!

    5 months ago
  • rainandsonder

    "a thousand dragonflies burst into flight between your ribs, sending tremors skittering along your bones: your hand shakes." WOW that line! this whole piece is so genuine and so powerful and i don't feel like i have the right even to comment on it, i just want to commend you for writing this a thousand times over, because this is so strong!

    5 months ago
  • asta

    replying: as far as i know, the wakizashi and katana are used together, like dual swords. and there's that word which means dual sword-wielder, but is actually slang for bisexuality. i just couldn't help myself >:)

    5 months ago
  • asta

    replying: i'm nowhere near that level of skill yet lol, the artist is @jhoca on ig, i forgot to credit them. thank u for validating my good taste tho lol, and thank you for your lovely comments!

    5 months ago
  • Maya'sTired

    I feel like my words might fail me here, but I will try regardless. I am a very empathetic person, but it is still very difficult for someone to truly understand the life of another if they have not shared similar experiences. Despite this, you invited me in to try. You let me walk in your shoes, just long enough to take the strides you've made in discovering yourself. Thank you so much for making me cry and for sharing a part of your journey. This piece is beautiful

    5 months ago
  • mia_:)

    I am STUNNED at how eloquently you described this! There is no way that a comment of mine can ever do it justice, but I'm going to try!
    I love the extended metaphor of the ink against your temples. Coming back to that really tied the piece together and left me speechless! I just scrolled through to try and copy and paste my favorite lines, but I adore them all! How are you so talented? Like FizzyBaguette said, this is the future of writing and what we should all aspire to be. This is so raw and emotional and powerful and strong. Hands-down one of my favorite pieces that I've ever read on WtW! Wow. I am literally speechless! <3<3

    5 months ago
  • FizzyBaguette

    There honestly aren't any better or more words to describe how much I love this piece or how gorgeous this is...what's said has been said, and I'm not here to engage in an out compliment battle because everyone in the comments section knows you're the queen of prose, and we bow down to you. Lit mags will be lucky, no, blessed to have you submit to them because this is quality work. Everyone else, take a good look at this piece. This is the future of writing.

    5 months ago
  • babybluelamentations

    i’m crying. u made me cry >:’(
    this is the most gorgeous work i’ve read in such a long time. the emotion built into this piece is so well-written; it’s raw and heartbreakingly honest, and paints a beautiful reality of finding yourself inside of yourself. this is gorgeous, your name is gorgeous, you are gorgeous. i’ve said gorgeous too many times, but it’s true. <3

    5 months ago
  • PureHeart

    utterly beautiful. You surpass all expectations and your writing does indeed get better and better. You are a true inspiration

    5 months ago
  • asta

    i'm not exaggerating when i say this is one of the most beautiful pieces on identity i have ever read, every word seems effortlessly, yet deliberately chosen <3

    5 months ago
  • jyotsna.r.n

    the figurative language killed me and brought me back to life. amazing!!!

    5 months ago
  • joella

    oh my god. ailia, this is gorgeous. i don't think i can do justice to this piece by commenting (and sunny said it best). girl, you are SO strong and this piece is just the epitome of everything you embody (to me, at least...i'm humbled before your writing.) this is so, so beautiful. <3

    5 months ago
  • aditi


    5 months ago
  • PouringOutTheSun

    oh jun lei, this is *so* beautiful. it’s so beautiful and wonderful and i have never been good at expressing how much i like some of the pieces on this site, but this has made a pit in my stomach, (a good pit, shows that i felt something while reading this) and it was such a lovely experience, reading the whole thing. it’s so heartfelt and amazing. i’m literally awe-struck, i think i have tears in my eyes.

    5 months ago
  • chrysanthemums&ink

    sunny really says it best. i, really. i'm kinda at a loss for words right now. this hit a tender spot and i can't stop... feeling it? the waves of emotion from this piece are intense. wow. i'm incredibly unqualified to compliment this. just... wow.

    6 months ago
  • crow_e

    just sent in a review!

    6 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    How... I am speechless. So, so undeniably beautiful.

    6 months ago
  • sunny.v

    “but chinese is tattooed upon one wrist, and american stamped upon the other” geez, if that isn’t one of the most heart wrenching lines i’ve read. it reached somewhere in my chest, and...wow.
    “it is yours to reject and it is yours to accept” the whole motif of rejection/acceptance/ownership of identity is simply gorgeous. a piece that’s so personal (and i love you for telling it, and doing so beautifully <3 ) becomes so meaningful and oh-so powerful. i’ve read coming of age novels that have been less compelling and endearing than this.
    “ as if that is a part of you that can be erased.” and “ you learn that you were not named by your mother, but by the orphanage.” crap. dang it, ailia. i’m tearing up.
    “ your hands are not shadowed with hesitancy. ” i just love love how this ties back to “ anoints your temples with ink. her hands are not shadowed with hesitancy”. amazing parallelism. like when she wrote the name on your forehead and created a small little semblance of identity for you, you’re now doing the same and taking who you are into your own hands.
    “ this is a reminder that you belong to no one but yourself. you are jun lei, the girl who ached for ancestors across the sea. ” CRAP. crap crap crap. this is so gorgeous. you really bring it all back to finding yourself. to standing tall, and claiming who you are. not just what you were branded or told you were: you make yourself, no one else. that last part of the sentence made me imagine you as a YA fantasy character btw, standing on a cliff, wind tussling your hair, your name a legend for all those who whisper it. jun lei.
    “ you have accepted all of it.” you did, didn’t you? and isn’t that the beautiful thing. this was breathtaking and just...wow. i hope you can tell how high in esteem i hold this piece.

    6 months ago