A trip down mem­ory lane

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

Ispent the pe­riod be­tween the end of April and the be­gin­ning of June in Guge vil­lage, Lin­quan county, An­hui prov­ince, ob­serv­ing the ways in which the peo­ple of this pover­tys­tricken place have im­proved liv­ing stan­dards.

When I was go­ing around vis­it­ing peo­ple in the vil­lage in East China, I al­ways brought my cam­era. On May 9, I came across a group of pri­mary school chil­dren on a road which was still muddy three days af­ter the last rain­fall.

I wanted to take a video to show how the chil­dren walked on the muddy road, but they re­peat­edly dodged the cam­era.

On the af­ter­noon of May 15, I oper­ated a cam­era drone which flew above the chil­dren as they re­turned home from school. This time they be­came re­ally ex­cited and jumped around shout­ing, “Come down, come down” and “Go up, go up”.

In the days that fol­lowed, I saw these chil­dren sev­eral times and they treated me as if they knew me quite well. Ev­ery time they saw me with a cam­era, they sur­rounded me and asked to see the pho­tos I had taken.

“Left-be­hind chil­dren” (whose par­ents have moved to big cities in search of work) of­ten give the im­pres­sion of be­ing very shy, but af­ter stay­ing with them for some time, I found them very ac­tive and cu­ri­ous. “They are some­times very naughty,” was the ver­dict of their grand­par­ents and teach­ers.

Heavy rain on May 22 left the roads in a ter­ri­ble state once again. The next day, a child lost one of her wa­ter­proof boots in the mud, and I watched as she bounced back to the boot on a sin­gle bare foot.

When I asked the chil­dren if they felt tired walk­ing on the muddy roads, they replied that they were ac­cus­tomed to the sit­u­a­tion.

I was born and raised in a vil­lage about 300 kilo­me­ters from Guhe, so the scene was rem­i­nis­cent of my child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences about 20 years ago. What was un­ex­pected was that so many years have passed, but chil­dren are still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same things I went through.

A ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween me and those chil­dren lies in the fact that my par­ents didn’t move away for work — these kids’ par­ents are mostly mi­grant work­ers, and the chil­dren have been left be­hind to bear all the dif­fi­cul­ties alone.

One day, I saw a vil­lager busily build­ing a three-story house, which he said would cover about 500 square me­ters. He had worked in Wen­zhou, a city in Zhe­jiang prov­ince, for sev­eral years, but sus­tained in­juries to his left arm in an ac­ci­dent two years ago.

As a re­sult, he was un­able to work, so he re­turned to Guhe and scraped a liv­ing by grow­ing crops. With his sav­ings and money he bor­rowed from rel­a­tives, he was build­ing the house not for his own com­fort, but for his son, who is still in high school.

“He will need a house to marry a wife,” he said.

I asked: “What if he passes the gaokao (the na­tional col­lege en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion)? He might never come back to the vil­lage.”

“Oh, how could he?” the man said in an in­dif­fer­ent tone.

I was taken aback, but later when I was talk­ing with other vil­lagers, I dis­cov­ered that quite a few par­ents held the same be­lief, the same in­dif­fer­ence to­ward aca­demic per­for­mance.

Ev­ery year, about 500,000 high school stu­dents in An­hui take the col­lege en­trance exam, and more than 80 per­cent are of­fered places to study at universities, col­leges and vo­ca­tional schools.

With im­proved liv­ing stan­dards and the on­go­ing poverty-re­lief mea­sures, fewer rural stu­dents drop out be­fore fin­ish­ing high school, but a large num­ber fail to get into col­leges.

One day, on the road lead­ing from the school to the chil­dren’s homes, one of the chil­dren told me, “My wheat will be ripe soon.”

In­stead of say­ing “My fam­ily’s wheat”, she sim­ply said “My wheat”, which I hadn’t ex­pected.

On May 31, the day be­fore In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Day, I vis­ited the Li­u­lou pri­mary school in Guhe, which has about 100 stu­dents.

Be­fore I en­tered the school, I saw three boys dump­ing garbage into a dry ditch in front of the build­ing. Ditches full of garbage are a com­mon sight in the vil­lage.

When I asked who had told them to dump the garbage in the ditch, they told me it was their teacher. I was as­ton­ished to hear that, but for the chil­dren it was just nor­mal be­hav­ior in an iso­lated, poverty-stricken com­mu­nity that is just be­gin­ning to come to terms with the mod­ern world.

Con­tact the writer at zhulixin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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