Remember to call your Mother, Son


It’s been months since I last spoke to my family. I feel the need and desire to communicate with them, but I don’t know how to start. The conflict of generational differences seems to be building up in silence. Why does it get stuck in my throat whenever I want to say something? What was the problem? I’ve given up looking for the answer, or rather, looking into my own experience. I look around and listen to other people’s stories, from a friend or a passing stranger, entering their private space—maybe like me—their place to hide or to heal.

“Come here was their idea, and the engineering major just didn’t appeal to me at all. I’ve been living in this room for a bit more than two years, but I’ve taken almost none of the courses. To be honest I’d rather be out in the woods, by the lake, taking pictures and videos with my friends. Experiencing a love affair, or playing guitar in the band and singing with others together. I don’t know what I want to do in the future, but I like what I’m doing and what I being able to do right now. I have no interest to follow the route they’ve set for me themself for the rest of my life”.

“I’m still afraid to tell them about my sexual orientation. My boyfriend and I have been together for eight years, and my parents know him well. There’s a photo of the two of us with our both parents on the shelf in the living room. He had also been to China, but I had never really talked to my parents about it, and I never knew how to ask”.

“My parents and I were never very close. Yeah, we lived in the same house, and there wasn’t much communication. My dad was not very interested in me. My mom was critical about me giving up my studies back in China, she wanted me to live according to her schedule. I have been hooked on piercing and tattooing since I was young. For a very long time, in fact, at home even in the summer, I covered myself up with high necklines and long-sleeved clothes. I knew that if I showed my body, all I would get in return would be arguments. ‘It’s a virtue that treat your own body with more respect.’ I believe that’s what they said”.

“Nowadays I don’t have much contact with my family. My father always maintained a decent image in front of people during my childhood. But he has been beating my mother and of course me for as long as I can remember. It seemed that violence was the outlet for his dominance, an authoritarian vessel. My parents may have lost their relationship a long time ago. So I always wanted to leave the house and live on my own, and all I could do was get myself into college earlier. When I was seventeen I finally left home and barely went back during my undergraduate years, and my mother soon moved out At the time I thought we were probably both holding out for each other. The only people I would miss were my grandparents, otherwise, I didn’t even want to contact my father at all. But he always refused to let me contact them directly, relying on that to try to bring me closer. After my undergraduate studies, I went to the Netherlands to pursue my postgraduate studies in marketing. My idea was to leave the ‘Home’ as far as possible. That was also what my father wanted a daughter with a successful career. But after graduation, I finally got tired of that life and moved to Germany to become an apprentice in a photography studio, which led me to be a photographer until today”.

“My mother died some years ago… I was very close to her, it broke my heart. Of course. I still stay in contact with my sister and relatives or sorts. But I was kind of an outsider anyway. We talk maybe once, or twice a year, and I attend their funerals when the time comes. My father tried to kind repair our relationship. He wants to come back into my life with little conversations, and some meals or a few cups of coffee. But it never worked. The gap in-between us is just too much. He gave up not long after. I’m a man without roots ever after that. And I guess I’ll stay this way”.


PHROOM // Zexuan Zeng
PHROOM // Zexuan Zeng

“I know my dad was an alcoholic. He drank plenty that night, even though I was in the other room the whole time. The car accident took his life, and tore the family apart. I can never forget the end when he was lying on a hospital bed, completely unconscious. I watched quietly as his heartbeat slowly stopped. He left easily, now I must carry all these traces he left behind”.

“I had a pretty good relationship with my parents and am usually happy to talk to them and so on, still do actually. But since I started growing my hair, our video chats have become less and less frequent. I only dare to call them after I have just taken a shower, without any makeup and my hair wrapped up in a towel. Because they like to see me that way the most, it makes them feel at ease, they always thought I would probably seduce messy men if I put on the makeup. They still have no idea about how I look like what I do right now. I did confess my sexual orientation to them when I was around sixteenth, my mom was always very much against me, refusing to accept it, with gene-deep certainty that there must be something wrong with me. My dad on the other hand, always thought that it was just my ‘youthful ignorance’, a moment sum of my urges, and that I would become ‘normal’ after I grew up. well, now that I’ve grown up, I guess the real me is still not quite ‘normal’ to them”.

“My dad is an architect, he has this nice little property and all these black sheep are his pets. I was raised here, in this little snowy town. But then my mom left here with another man, so I think wasn’t long after I joined them in Germany”.

“About ten years ago, I think even more than that, I already knew that they had divorced. I once found their divorce papers in the cupboard, originally just trying to search some money for cigarettes… But I feel that because of this incident made me have a fundamental distrust of marriage. I think I’ll never get married in my life. There are times when I even feel that ‘LOVE’ itself is also a lie, although now they are urging me (to get married) now and then”.

“When our child was born a few years ago, my parents and I argued a lot about the name. For example, at first, my partner and I had considered giving our daughter only a German name, after all, she’s going to grow up in Germany. But my parents were totally against it, they insisted that the Chinese name should be the dominant one. At the same time, they have a deep obsession that I should have a son as if a daughter can’t fulfill the task of passing on the family name… Haha, that’s for sure, her last name isn’t even mine. Her surname is still her mother’s today, and my parents don’t even know it yet. When we were back in China we only called her by nickname. I think they’ll figure it out one day, but it’ll be a long long time from now. I don’t know if it’s coming from the desire or ignorance, the elderly in the family is particularly obsessive about these things as if they have nothing better to do. We already live in different countries and cultures and I don’t think they have the right to influence my decisions about my children”.

All texts are selected from dialogues with the people involved, and through recollection, I have rewritten them in the first-person expression. Some do not correspond to the photographs, some are not just the story of a single person, and some come from many years ago, from the truths and lies or nightmares that wish to be forgotten but we keep waking up into.

Zexuan Zeng (*1997) was born in eastern South China and studied Graphic Design as a Bachelor at SHNU since 2015. One year later, he began working as a freelance artist and designer, in 2021 he began his studies at KHM. Since arriving in Germany, Zexuan has been engaged in photography, writing, video art, and grafic art. His interest lies in the control of emotional flow in photography concerning the relation between documentary and fiction, and the self-reference of memory. His work appears in exhibitions in various countries, including China, Germany, and Japan.

Copyright © Zexuan Zeng, all rights reserved

error: Content is protected