High ambitions and a dream fulfilled
When Xu Yan, from the Songtao Miao autonomous county in Tongren, a city in Guizhou province, was in junior high school, she would avoid conversations with her classmates if the topic turned to kindergartens. “I was afraid that they would laugh and say my hometown must be terrible because it didn’t even have a kindergarten,” she said.
Instead of attending preschool education, the 19-yearold spent most of her early childhood on the farm where her mother worked, and when her mother left to look for work in the city, Xu was carried to the fields by her grandmother. “I had a dream that my experiences would not be repeated by children in my hometown,” she said.
To follow that dream, she decided to study preschool education and become a kindergarten teacher in her home area. Last year, after graduating from Hunan Zhijiang Normal School, Xu returned to Songtao and began work at the new kindergarten in Houzhai, based in disused primary school classrooms.
She recalled being “so astonished” by the tough living conditions when she arrived. Her dorm room contains just a bed and an old ceiling fan, which hardly stirs the humid air during hot summer nights. There is no bathroom, so she has to take water to the bedroom for a bath. “I mop the floor to clean up the water that splashes out of the tub so often that the cement floor is now as shiny as metal,” she said.
The only toilet is in the distant school, and because she is afraid of the dark, Xu is hesitant tomake the trip at night. “I try to avoid using the toilet at night because I have to wake up my colleague and ask her to accompany me,” she said, referring to the only other inhabitants, her colleague Zhou Xiaoyun and her daughter.
Life in the village is monotonous. There are no restaurants, just a couple of small stores with a limited range of goods, but itinerant vendors sometimes arrive to sell food. The school canteen opens at noon and only provides lunch for the students, so Xu cooks breakfast and dinner for herself. She’s a poor cook, so she usually prepares dried noodles.
There are almost no people of Xu’s age in the village, and although Houzhai is only 7 km from Panxin, the nearest town, there is no public transportation. She has to try her luck by waiting on the roadside to see if the local taxi— a three-wheeled truck — is available. If not, she spends about 90 minutes walking to Panxin.
Her only entertainment comes from animated programs that she watches on her cellphone. Her favorite is Detective Conan. “I have watched all of the more-than 800 episodes. If I am in a bad mood, I feel good after watching an episode,” she said.
The distance between her room and the wireless router in the school means the Wi-Fi connection is unstable, so she often sits in the doorway of her dorm at night to surf the internet.
Now, she has two new dreams: to visit Beijing and one of the steppes dotted around China. “I have a friend who works in Beijing. Every time she posts photos of Beijing on WeChat (an instantmessaging app), I admire her very much,” she said.
However, her dreams are likely to remain unfulfilled because she doesn’t have enough money to achieve them. She earns 2,000 yuan ($297) a month, and gives half to her mother. Instead of spending the remainder on herself, she uses it to buy clothes for her family.
“I enjoy buying clothes for them because they are so happy when they wear their new clothes,” she said.
I had a dream that my experiences would not be repeated by children in my hometown.” Xu Yan, 19-year-old teacher at a rural kindergarten in Tongren, Guizhou