computers and a single car, the rattling silver van.
There are two main roads; at their intersection are two general stores, a fertilizer shop and a small restaurant. There is no running water, and the town got electricity only a decade back.
Most of the money comes from migrant workers. About 40 per cent of the villagers leave home to join China’s urban workforce.
The migrants’ salaries have bought bricks and lumber to replace the grass and mud once used to build homes. People proudly show off their televisions, washing machines and refrigerators; everybody knows who has what, and how much it cost.
The price is paid in absence. Most of the year, these hamlets are ghostly, drained of the young and fit.
For these two weeks of the holiday, though, the village looks like its old self. Couples get married, taking advantage of the luck of a new year and the presence of migrating relatives. Roving holiday markets spill from one village to the next, peddling live fish, dried lotus, pigs’ heads, handpounded sesame oil, mountains of fireworks.
During these fleeting weeks of holiday, everybody has everything. But it doesn’t last, and sometimes the cracks of distance show.
Li’s children have grown up without him. He seems uneasy around them, scoffs that their mother gave them names that are embarrassingly rural.
His son, Shengshun, has been acting out. He skips school, runs off with his friends. To the fury of his teacher, who threatened to ban him from school, he dyed his hair bright red. His grades are terrible; in a few years, he’ll probably follow his father’s example and migrate to a big city.
Now he trails after his father, hurls himself at the older man, who brushes the boy away. He manages to lure his father into a wrestling match, but it doesn’t last long.
As for 15-year-old Yingying, she is tall and dreamy. She earns better grades than her brother, and helps her mother in the kitchen. She pines for adventure, of becoming a factory girl someplace bustling and distant.
“I always think outside is better than my village,” she says.
New Year’s Eve is drawing closer, and Sun Fengzhi is mincing goat fat for the stew, banging it over and over with a shining cleaver. She married Li more than 13 years ago, when she was 26. She has hardly seen him since.
With her husband out of earshot in the yard, Sun describes a melancholy family life.
“He went away and I had to take care of everything,” she says quietly. “It was really difficult for me. I had to take care of the kids myself. I used to hold them so long my arms were in pain. I had to be their father and their mother.”
One of the neighbour women slips out to warn Li: “Your wife is criticizing you to outsiders!”
Inside, Sun’s face is clouding over with coming tears; her voice hardly audible. Li bursts into the room. “Stop complaining so much,” he yells at his wife, who cringes and shrinks from him.
Their son joins in, echoing his father’s orders: “Stop complaining!”
Sun drops her reddened eyes and turns to the stew.
The day of New Year’s Eve is clear enough that the sun pierces the chill, heralding the coming change of season; the entire holiday period is called chunjie, or spring festival.
Li wears a grey woollen sweater and jeans as he works in the back courtyard. Much of his holiday is spent catching up on the repairs, the broken water pump on the well, the loose tiles on the roof.
Then it is time to change the faded banners decorating the house. Li climbs a bamboo ladder and, as his son stands below peeling off strips of tape, they hang the auspicious couplets purchased for the New Year. Across the top of the gate, gold letters on a strip of red paper read: Happiness and fortune will prevail.
— Los Angeles Times