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Love propelled me over the mountain

02158 He Chao Ming
Translated by George Wang

I came from a poor mountain village in Yangbi. We planted corn and potato; the only two crops that could survive the harsh local conditions. There were six members in our family -- Grandpa, my parents, my sister and brother. The house we lived was shared with my uncle’s family as well.

Through hard work, my parents were able to build a bare-bones house, with a white-wood shingle roof and red clay walls. The windows were plywood boards and the door made out of bamboo. My siblings and I were in elementary school when we moved to the new house. To pay for our tuition, our parents took side jobs and borrowed money from neighborhood. For the next few years, we managed to get by and lived from hand-to-mouth. For our stripped-down house, my parents never found the money to upgrade it.

In middle school, students lived in school and were required to pay for the meals in addition to tuition. Every Sunday afternoon, Mom would scramble to raise 12RMB for me to pay for the weekly meals. She would say: “buy some rice and exchange it for your weekly meal tickets.” I knew how hard it was for her to scrape up the money. The bills felt heavy in my hands and they weighed me down. She said, “No matter what, I want you to continue the education. One day you can pull yourself up from here and live a different life.” It was hard to see her suffer so much just to provide for us. I wanted to quit school to help out, yet I knew she would never agree to it. Any words from me would be futile. Whatever I said would be meaningless and could only hurt.

The new house turned into an old shack in no time. The make-do windows and door remained unchanged. To make the ends meet, my parents turned themselves into non-stop working machines.

In my freshman year in high school, my grades dropped to the bottom of the class. I was lost and couldn’t understand the lessons. With the semester drawing to the end, I was disillusioned with school and wanted to quit. I felt school was a waste of time and money and I might as well start to work. I told my parents my intention. Dad said nothing and Mom was disheartened. She said, “OK, you can work with me tomorrow.” The next day she woke me up before dawn to hike with her to the mountain for wood. I picked up a rope and a machete and followed her to the hill. It was during the winter time. Against the frosted ground, my rubber shoes squeaked and protested loudly all along the trip.

We arrived at the hilltop at daybreak. It was a good distance trek. Mom went right into chopping and I wandered around for easy pickings. By the time she finished her batch, mine was only half-done. She helped me finishing my batch. We roped the wood and carried them on our backs. The downhill trip was challenging. The load was heavy and my knee hurt. I had to take several breaks and wished the load would vanish into the air. We finally reached home. After lunch, Mom wanted me to carry corn stalks and go with Dad to my uncle’s place. My uncle had a stone grinder that could grind the stalks into powder. The dry corn stalks weren’t too heavy, but the afternoon gusts blew me to the ground several times. “This is no way a life for human being”, I thought. After dinner, I was totally drained and I went straight to bed. Eat, work, sleep. Day in and day out. The cycle repeated itself every day and the work never ended.

Time passed and the new semester was near. Mom did not bother asking me if I wanted to go back to school. On the eve of the school opening, I couldn’t resist anymore and declared, “Mom, I want to return to school.” She smiled and nodded, “I got the money for you. It was from selling the pig. You all go to school tomorrow.” Next morning, we put on clothes for school. Mom said: “If you quit school, you will live a life like mine. Is studying at school harder than working at home?” I shook my head. After experiencing the work life in hills, I was fully convinced that Mom was right. Ever since, I put out the idea of quitting school and dedicated myself to the goal of college.

One morning in 2002, my class teacher summoned me, “you have made great strides this semester. PEACH is offering scholarship of eight hundred RMBs per semester to qualified students. You are among the three students chosen. Here is the application form, fill it carefully, and return to me by this afternoon.” I put the form on the desk, wrote a draft on a separate sheet, and copied it over. I filled the form as if my life depended on it. It was not until that evening that I handed it over.

On the following weekend, I delivered the good news to my parents. They were overjoyed. Mom said, “With such a gift from those benevolent people, you just have to study harder.” This was at the time when I was in the high school and my brother and sister in junior high. The tuition for the three of us was about 1500 RMBs, not counting the living expense of 50 RMBs each week. It was an insurmountable amount to our family. I beat my chest, “Don’t worry. You can count on my 800 to pay for my expenses.”

Two weeks after the school started, the teacher handed me a PEACH remittance slip of 800 RMB. I put the slip inside my notebook and went to post office to cash in. The post office required a proof of identity which I didn’t have. The following week I brought the family registration book to the post office and finally collected the 800 RMB. The tuition and the miscellaneous amounted to 650 RMB and the remainders were good for the living expense. With the scholarship, the worries about my future were all dissipated. The PEACH scholarship alleviated our family burden and boosted my confidence. Henceforth I knew that education was my only ticket to the outside world, and I had to make it.

In the fall of 2004, I followed my dream on a train to attend college, leaving the back hill behind for the metropolis. Everything in the city, the high-rises and the shuttling traffic, were new to me. Here I experienced many of my firsts: the first time I got lost in the campus; the first time I encountered a computer and attempted to open it with random punches; the first time I messed up in the college canteen with a meal card in hand; and the first time I visited a supermarket and couldn’t find my way out.

In college, I found moments of happiness and hardship, setbacks and triumphs, fond memories and fanciful aspirations. My college life was not glamorous, yet it was very fulfilling. In addition to studying textbooks in the classroom, I also spent a lot of time doing research in the library. Time in the classroom took no more than 10 hours each week and I had ample leisure time for my own activities. The economic pressure was real and I needed to find a solution to it. After a month, I found a job in delivering the newspapers. Every day I packed dozens of publications into a big sack and delivered them to the student dormitory. I would start from the first floor and move up to the seventh floor, delivering newspapers while collecting the used ones. It took about two hours to complete the task. I worked on the weekdays and made 200RMB a month. Payday was an exciting day, knowing the money would cover my living expense for the month.

In December 2012, I was hired by the same PEACH who had encouraged and supported me over the years. Everything and everyone in the office was warm and familiar. It was like coming back home.

In my job I conducted a lot of home visits at student’s house. The same predicaments I had many years ago were recurring to these poor children. Their homes were just like our old house. During my youth, I had the same experience of pain, struggle, helplessness, and hopefulness like they did. The sad story was replayed over and over on numerous kids. The difference was that I had a warm, whole family and the children came mostly from helpless, broken families.

I saw parents put money into their children’s hand before they were heading for school. The crumpled, creased bills were carefully restacked to form a neat deck. My eyes always went blurry when I saw this familiar, heartfelt scene. My parents used to run from the field to stick the soiled money into my hands on the Sundays. Such a selfless love and high hopes they pinned on their children. When I saw those needy kids with their faithful parents, I felt a great sense of responsibility. If my meager effort was conducive in firing up their hopes and fulfilling their dreams, I would be content with myself. I could live with that.

 

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