Story of the Week: A model store run by a "cyber-mom"
The cyber-mom carries on her son's legacy.
What's the first image welling up in your mind when someone says the word "cyberpunk" ? Will it be handsome Keanu Reeves dressed in black, dodging bullets with fancy moves in the Matrix? Will it be the dystopic city in Blade Runner 2049, where skyscraper lights shimmer in rainy nights? Or will it be copying someone's memories and consciousness in a cortical stack in Altered Carbon?
Today's newsletter is first published by WeChat blogger Chapingjun entitled "A 25-year-old model shop owner died, and his mother decided to take on his legacy" 一位25岁的模型玩家去世了，他的母亲决定继承他的遗志. It's a story about how an ordinary mom turned into a "cyber-mom" and carried on the hobby, the business, and the legacy of her late son.
By the standard of the sci-fi world where love and death are the eternal core, "cyber-mom" found a very cyberpunk way to memorize her beloved boy.
An audio version of the story is also provided below as some of you might prefer to listen to the story.
There's a niche store selling model parts on "Xianyu" [The Chinese version of eBay, a second-hand trading e-commerce platform].
With well-made 3D-printed parts at an affordable price, the store has earned a bunch of student fans.
The home page of the store suggests that the owner might be a fan of Cyberpunk 2077. For the profile picture, he chose a character from Burn the Witch by Tite Kubo. So he might also be a fervent anime lover.
However, a touching story lies behind the ordinary store.
Several months ago, the store had less than 1,000 followers.
The owner Wang Renfei died from heart disease on May 21 this year at the age of 25.
Therefore, this store suddenly stopped fulfilling orders for a few months, and nobody responded to messages sent by customers.
Things went on like that for over a month, and then the store started to operate again.
However, the quality of the products took a nosedive after the store reopened. Sometimes, customers got wrong models, or modals with cracks, as if the owner became a different person.
Some customers then called the owner for explanation. But an apologetic middle-aged woman picked up the phone.
It turned out that Wang's mother took over the store's operation. She is 53 years old.
The countdown for the end of Wang Renfei's life
Wang Renfei was born in Linyi, Shandong Province [In eastern China]. Friends and family called him "Niu Niu."
He was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) at the local hospital when he was five.
DMD causes weakness of muscles, which could lead to paralysis of lower limbs and cardio problems. The disease is a genetic one. Considering no one else in the family suffers from the disease, doctors believed that it was genetic mutations.
Niu Niu's mother told the author, "the disease is rare and the condition is worrying. Because the life expectancy of patients with DMD only reaches a dozen years.
When the mother got the diagnosis, she felt dizzy. It was like a countdown clock was above her head, and she had to check the remaining time every day from then on. To make her son's fleeting life meaningful, the mother took Niu Niu to travel around the country and visited doctors along the way to see if there was a cure.
After several rounds of travelling and examinations at different hospitals across the country, the mother was relieved a bit.
It turned out that Niu Niu might get Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) instead of DMD.
The two diseases may exhibit similar symptoms, but patients with BMD can expect to live into their third or fourth decade of life.
Her first reaction was "I am satisfied to get a dozen years more with my kid."
Niu Niu is making models
Later on, Niu Niu's mother joined a support group where patients encourage each other and exchange information. Someone told Niu Niu's mother that the U.S. is working on new therapies, so she should save money. Things might turn around in the future.
But Niu Niu's life stopped abruptly when he was 25.
On the afternoon of May 21, Niu Niu was making models in his workshop as usual but suddenly he fainted.
When the family found him on the floor, Niu Niu was holding the customized "cyberpunk high-heel models." Under the chair there was a phone, and a call that never went through.
Then, the mother called the ambulance immediately.
While waiting for the paramedics, she kept doing CPR. All she could think of was not missing the golden hour.
"I didn't do very standard CPR. I regret that I didn't remember the steps clearly," said the mother with self-blame and tears when she talked to the author.
The mother has thousands of words to say about Niu Niu.
She said that her son was gentle and patient, and loved reading since he was little.
He spent a lot of time on Bilibili [A video social media platform popular among Chinese youngsters, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube]. He was into cats, movies, animation, Gundam models, music, 3D printing, and handicrafts.
His favorite food is dumplings. He always talked about supporting indigenous brands, and his dream was to open a bookstore of his own.
As he always worked on making handicrafts and digital hardware online, he helped relatives and classmates to assemble computers. He also recommended cost-effective mobile phones to them.
Later on, he learned 3D printing and modeling himself. He became a modeler.
Because of Niu Niu's special conditions, his mother never interfered with his hobbies. Instead, she learned to understand her son's world and tried to create more common topics.
Under Niu Niu's recommendation, his mother learned the word "Cyberpunk." And they watched Blade Runner together.
They even played the online game World of Tanks together.
She always rooted for her son when he bought model tool kits and spray guns for making models.
Niu Niu's mother posted on WeChat on May 14
The mother said that though the family did not require Niu Niu to support himself, he wanted to realize his worth so badly.
Due to common love for models, Niu Niu met many friends with the same hobbies online. They had a chat group on social media platform QQ. He made model parts for others for free with his 3D printing machine.
He got amazing craftsmanship. So, at others' advice, he opened a small store on Xianyu.
Although he didn't earn much, not a single customer left a bad comment. And he even received orders from abroad, which made Niu Niu very proud and more invested into his little business.
After some time, he fostered a small group of loyal fans. The "Sony Walkman" and "AJ sneakers" models he made were very popular. The average price was about a dozen yuan, tens of yuan at most. It was 100 percent good news for 3D-printed model lovers.
The cyber-mom that carries on her son's legacy
After Niu Niu died, his mother donated his cornea, body, etc. as he wished. However, she never thought about maintaining the online store.
When she arranged her son's stuff, she found that people still sent messages to his son on WeChat, QQ, Xianyu and other platforms once in a while, asking about the models they ordered.
"Those children had ordered things in the store. The orders must be fulfilled."
The mother was confused about all those models. Even one model has different sizes. She got lost in sea of Gundam, Snail Shell Studio, goddess of KOTOBUKIYA, Figma, E-model ...
With the help of Niu Niu's friends, she finished the orders one by one.
During this period, she received encouragement from customers, and gradually became familiar with models.
She said that those kids and her son have the same hobbies. And they are all kind and polite. They are all nice kids, which warmed her and filled the hole in her heart.
"I am a materialist, but I still believe that I will meet my son in the afterlife one day. If I learn his hobbies, we will have more topics when I see him again."
Thus, the mother is determined to carry on her son's legacy.
Then, we see a lady over 50 beginning to study animation, C4D modeling, and the craftsmanship of making plastic models.
She even planned to download and play the video game Cyberpunk 2077 at the netizens' suggestions.
Though the mother has a college degree, to start from scratch for someone like her is like asking an elementary student to do Further Mathematics.
However, human beings are strange.
The mother really acquired basic knowledge of plastic models through Niu Niu's QQ chat group, the help of his good friends, and taught herself on Bilibili.
When the screen of the 3D printer broke down, she contacted the seller on Taobao [A Chinese online shopping platform], and repaired the screen herself according to the video tutorial.
With her son's stuff, she gradually worked out how to replace silicon film, do secondary curing, and UV irradiation.
Learning 3D modelling from Niu Niu's friends, she has already mastered basic operations like slicing, printing, resizing, etc.
Accomplishing the seemingly impossible boosted the mother's confidence, and she started to understand her son's career gradually.
In her view, things go smoothly probably because Niu Niu is watching over her, helping her.
The good news is that things are on the right track now. And the mother plans to keep learning painting, spraying, and C4D modeling.
Every time she sends out a package, she would put in a few more accessories as gifts, because she is not doing it for the money, she simply wants her son's hobby and spirit to live on.
Although the road ahead is still a long and bumpy one. But the mother said that she is retired now and has all the time needed.
In the Cyberpunk online forum, someone said ——
"As a loyal fan of Cyberpunk, Niu Niu never wait to see the anime series Edgerunners, which revitalized 2077." (Cyberpunk 2077)
He is about the same age as the protagonist David Martinez. And both of them had a great mother worthy of respect.
Give it another 50 years, I believe that there will be a cure for his disease. Even with leg muscle atrophy, Niu Niu will get the most updated cyberlimbs and be fleet of foot.
With Niu Niu's dexterous hands, he could be a doctor with a prosthesis, a legend in the Night City [a fictional place where exciting stories happen in the cyberpunk series].
The mother keeps several models made by Niu Niu as souvenirs.
Among them, her favorite is the Relic, a biochip from Cyberpunk 2077. Niu Niu made the one and only chip.
To get the chip to look exactly like the one in the video game, Niu Niu took a lot of effort and customized stickers in a factory.
In Cyberpunk 2077, the Relic is an experimental project of Arasaka called "Secure Your Soul."
The chip is made for personality transferal. It converts the data in the human nervous system into a digitized engram and stored as a construct on the Relic chip. Relatives can communicate with the deceased person through the chip.
Niu Niu's mother didn't know that before. When the author told her the details of the Relic, she was choked with tears.
Perhaps this is how Niu Niu showed his love for his family.
Now, the cyber-mom's story has reached a lot of people through the internet.
The number of followers of the store on Xianyu has increased from about 1,000 to nearly 10,000. The mother received countless encouragement and even donations, but she refused to take the donations.
She is overwhelmed by the flood of orders and comments. She usually finishes several orders weekly, so she is quite nervous in front of all these messages.
Therefore, the author urges everyone to act more rationally, and try not to increase the burden of the store.
The mother wants the author to tell others that if you don't need the models, please don't order them ... It will take a long time to finish all the orders.
As for those who already bought something from the store, she will finish them one by one. You can also apply for a refund if you want to.
Finally, the author hopes to share one more thing with you.
The mother makes donations from time to time, and has supported four poor kids to go to college.
At present, she plans to establish a public welfare fund using the condolence money she received at Niu Niu's funeral to help more kids.
I believe Niu Niu would be happier than anyone if he knew this.
Because he became a legend, and his beloved mother is also a big figure now.
I sincerely hope they will be happy forever.
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Very poignant piece, and another reminder of the universal human condition
As a mom who loves her two sons more than anything, I can relate to this amazing mom’s desire to honor and preserve her son’s life. She is amazing. Thank you for this story - you made my day.