MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Feng Daoyou was one of eight people shot to death in an Atlanta spa this past March. She was one of six women of Asian ethnicity killed in that attack. She was the only victim with no next of kin to identify her body. Strangers volunteered to organize and attend her funeral. NPR's Emily Feng tracked down Ms. Feng's brother, who still lives in southern China and filed this report.
(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS CLINKING)
FENG DAOKUN: (Speaking in Mandarin).
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Feng Daokun makes us tea as he remembers his younger sister.
D FENG: (Through interpreter) She was very much an extrovert. She could do anything she put her mind to. She was tough. She never gave up. That's just her personality.
E FENG: Among the things she put her mind to - moving to the U.S.
D FENG: (Through interpreter) We all thought she was joking. How does someone who didn't finish middle school find her way to America?
E FENG: She proved them wrong. One day in early 2016, the brother remembers getting a call from a U.S. number.
D FENG: (Through interpreter) I didn't dare answer the phone. Then I got a text. It was my sister, and she was in America. That's when I finally believed her.
E FENG: Feng Daoyou had flown to Hong Kong, right across the border from her hometown near Zhuhai in southern China, and then flown to the U.S. without ever telling her family. Going to the U.S. was a long-held dream for her. A friend of hers she met in Shanghai had already moved. Feng wanted to follow her, but she stayed behind to care for another brother, until he died in 2016.
D FENG: (Speaking in Mandarin).
E FENG: As we talked to her brother, a small, hunched woman with a gray bob looks into his apartment.
D FENG: (Speaking in Mandarin).
E FENG: The woman is their mother. The brother yells at her to get out. He apologetically explains he hasn't told their mother her daughter is dead.
D FENG: (Through interpreter) I told her that you two are our landlords coming to renew the lease, and she needed to stay away.
E FENG: Keeping information from elders like this is a very common act of protection in China. And the brother says the mother and daughter were very close. She worked for years in Shenzhen and Shanghai beauty parlors.
D FENG: (Through interpreter) She took care of all my mother's living expenses. Every Chinese New Year, she would send over about a $150 or so - nothing too much, but there was always some.
E FENG: Before she died, she was busy paying down the mortgage on her biggest gift yet to her family. She had bought a big house in their home village a few hours outside the city. She had no immediate plans to return to China, though. She said she was waiting for a green card.
D FENG: (Through interpreter) I told her as long as she got married, I was OK with her staying. I told her, marry someone, anyone. We kept at it, called her a spinster. She got mad at that.
E FENG: Feng likely will never return to China. She was killed at the age of 44 near Atlanta, Ga., on March 16. Her brother shows us a call log on his phone from March 15, the day before she was killed, the last time they ever spoke.
D FENG: (Through interpreter) She talked about sending money home for the Tomb Sweeping holiday. She specifically told me to ask our ancestors for protection so she could get her U.S. green card and that she could be safe from harm.
E FENG: After she died, volunteers offered to ship her ashes back to her hometown in China. Her family refused them.
D FENG: (Through interpreter) Our custom is that an unmarried woman's remains cannot enter her home village. We have nowhere to bury her.
E FENG: And so now she rests just outside Atlanta. She was headstrong, beautiful, hardworking and ultimately a mystery to even her brother. She left behind nearly zero possessions and no known close friends. Her brother hopes to visit his sister in the U.S. one day, but he says he's scared to go.
Emily Feng, NPR News, Zhuhai, China.
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