One of the saddest consequences of China’s urban boom is that many rural families are now separated. Parents are forced to look for work in the cities, but they are not allowed to bring their children with them.
As a result, children are left behind in villages, to be cared for by one or more elderly grandparents.
This essay was written by a young girl in Gansu Province.
Essay title: “Waiting for Chinese New Year”
by Du Fuxing, age 14
Gansu Province, Zhen Yuan County, New City Junior High School
(Translated by May-lee Chai)
“Ye-Ye, when are Papa and Mama coming home? It’s already the 28th! In two days, it’ll almost be the New Year. How come they haven’t come back yet? They’ve already been gone for three years,” my little brother asked my grandfather anxiously.
“Soon, soon. In two days, they’ll be home. Your father just called and said they’ve already boarded the train. They’ll be here by the 30th,” Ye-Ye consoled my brother.
Just like the year before, my little brother and I got up at the crack of dawn on the 30th, ate breakfast, and then rushed to the crossroads to wait. For three years, this was the only thing that made us happy. Although it was quite chilly at dawn and the wind was blowing, we didn’t feel the cold. There was already a crowd waiting on the side of the road, middle-aged people, children, even old folks holding babies that weren’t yet a year old. Nobody talked, just craned their necks to see better. My brother kicked stones on the side of the road from time to time. Meanwhile, I didn’t take my eyes off the road, watching for the bus to come.
An Approaching Bus
At last the first bus arrived. Everyone surged forward. A few young people got off the bus, grabbed hold of their parents, picked up their kids, and went home. Everyone else sighed and went back to their spots waiting on the side of the road, the same as my brother and me. Then the second bus came and a few more people got off the bus, and a few more people left the crowd still waiting on the side of the road like my brother and me. Bus after bus came and left, until there were just a few people still waiting.
The Long Wait
My brother grew impatient and ran back and forth, and my earlier hopes began to give way to fear. I couldn’t stop asking myself, “Papa and Mama aren’t coming home again? How can they not come home? They haven’t been home for three years.” However, I still held onto a thread of hope because there was still one more bus to come, and so I held my breath and waited. Then at long last, the final bus came as expected and the remaining people greeted their family members. Laughing and talking, they left. Once again, my brother and I had not seen our father.
“This is the fourth time already! The fourth time!” My brother picked up a rock and angrily tossed it across the road.
Ten years ago, our grandmother got sick and passed away and our family incurred a great debt for her medical care. Papa had no choice but to go to Tibet as a laborer. That was ten years that just slipped away. At that time, I was four and my younger brother only two. Because Mama was looking after us, we didn’t feel lonely. Then five years ago, Mama also joined the wave of people leaving to find work, and she went with Papa to Tibet. I was in third grade then; my brother had just started first grade. On the day our parents left us, we cried and begged them not to go. We said we were too little, we still needed our parents to love and care for us. But Papa and Mama insisted upon going. Now there were only three of us in the family: our grandfather, my brother and me, struggling to survive.
From that time onward, Papa and Mama sent us money every two months, and my brother and I got new book bags and new clothes. When we saw how enviously our classmates looked at us, we felt very happy for a time. But our optimistic outlook didn’t last long. We didn’t wash our clothes; there was no one to help us with our homework; when classmates bullied us, there was no one to tell. When we did naughty things at home, no one punished us. After awhile, we stopped doing our chores, we didn’t feel like doing our homework, we didn’t want to play with our classmates, we didn’t want to talk to other people. We just sat in front of the TV for company. How we longed to hear the sound of Mama scolding us like other kids. How we wished Papa was there to spank us.
New Year Firecrackers
On New Year’s eve, as lights were coming on in other people’s houses, firecrackers were going off outside every door, as people began to eat their New Year’s dinners, I felt timid, my brother became lazy and sluggish, so the two of us and our grandfather just watched TV to pass the New Year. Although the New Year’s programs featured all my favorite celebrities, this year I wasn’t interested in them one bit.
Then the phone rang. My brother nudged me and I nudged my brother, but neither of us would answer it, so Ye-Ye finally picked up the receiver.
The Phone Call
“It’s your parents calling! They said the hotel [where they worked] wouldn’t let any employees leave so they couldn’t come home. They want to talk to you two,” Ye-Ye shouted to us loudly. But neither my brother nor I paid any attention. My brother was already changing his clothes to go to bed, and I was falling asleep in front of the TV set as the New Year’s programs played on.
That night I dreamed that my brother and I had, in fact, been able to pick up Mama and Papa and bring them home. Papa had bought us special “One Thousand Bangs” brand firecrackers. My brother was running around happily setting them off. From time to time, he threw one at me playfully and I covered my ears and called out to him in mock dismay, “Have mercy! Have mercy!”
Miss Du Fuxing’s essay was given a writing award sponsored by the non-profit, all volunteer Education and Science Society (www.esscare.org), which provides both teacher training and support for rural schools in China. The essay was written in 2007 and nominated by Miss Du’s teacher for the award.