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My School Years

06054 Hu Hong Yan
Translated by George Wang

I grew up in the UNESCO world heritage site of Honghe Hani rice terraces. Our mountain village sits in the town of Ganiang of Yuanyang county. Towering mountains and steep slopes are everywhere. In elementary school, I lived through some of the most innocent and carefree times. Every morning, before dawn, I joined my pals and embarked on a journey of 3-4 kilometers to school. During weekends, I would follow grandpa and herd the ox to the corn field. My friends and I would start to rummage the hills for fruits and vegetables. On our way home, we carried our spoils in the back basket, along with a bunch of corn stalks for firewood. Those were the happy days and the thought of them always brings a smile to me.

Our family ran into hardship when I was in middle school. My brother, who was borne out of the government quota, was burned by boiling water. Mom stayed home to take care of him. We sold everything to pay for his medical treatment. I tried to quit school to help out, but Mom declined. She borrowed from my uncle to pay for my school expenses. A few months later, as my brother was recovering, Mom decided to start a side business to earn money. She would get up at 4 o’clock to make steam buns and peddled them to nearby villages. She made about 20-30 RMB a day and gave me 10 for school expenses. I came to realize that education is my only way out. If I gave up on myself then all her effort would have gone wasted. In school, I focused fully on study. On Saturday, I rushed home to help out.

I was not a competent helper, but I did my best. I accompanied Mom on her trips to valleys to collect vegetables for feeding pigs. I looked after my brother and sister and cooked for the family. At the end of weekend, it was time for my trip back to school. I would carry a few pounds of rice, which was my ration for the week, and a stack of coins that added up to about 10 RMB for living expenses. I spent no money on snacks and I had meats only occasionally. Every coin in my pocket, I owed it to the hard toils of Mom. I appreciated the opportunity she provided for me. In 9th grade, my grandpa passed away and we were heavily in debt. Again, the thought of quitting school came to my mind. Yet, if I did so, my life would have been a tragic repetition of the miserable life my parents had. I decided to stay in school. At this critical time, PEACH reached out to me. I was able to graduate without a hitch and enrolled into the Yuanyang No.1 High school.

Life is like riding a roller coaster, just when you think you have survived one peril, the next one looms. I thought I was finally secure then our family financial took another beating. First, Mom gave birth to another baby girl. As a result, my junior high sister had to quit school to help. The following year, my father suffered kidney stones. Then, in my senior year, my sister had an operation for appendicitis. All these family misfortunes fell on the shoulders of Mom. I called PEACH and was planning to return home. The staff counselled me to stay the course. My sacrifice would have brought very little to the family. Besides, my parents preferred that I continued my study. PEACH offered me a small loan to tide the family over for the time being. Thus, I put aside my worry and continued my study.

When I took my trip to Puer, my family had no means to support me for college. Mom handed me a thousand RMB for bus fare and for the school. It was all the money she could scrape up. Aided with a government loan, and the one thousand RMB, I embarked on my journey. I also secured a PEACH loan to help out on living expense. Within a month, I took on several part-time jobs: peddling products, passing pamphlets, and serving customers. I worked on any jobs that I could find, no matter how demanding or demeaning they were. During winter vacation, while my classmates were ready for Chinese New Year, I was busy looking for short-term seasonal work. Underneath the pretense of strength and nonchalance, I was actually desperate and lonely. It was under such a harsh condition that I completed my college degree. A tough journey, but it was all worth it.

It has been three years since I graduated. My first job was working as a trainee in a tea shop in Jiangsu. Then I returned to Yunnan and worked at Lincang. The funny thing is that I worked abroad as well. A classmate referred me to a tea factory job in Kokang, Myanmar. A raging civil war cut short of my oversea career in Myanmar. Now I work for a tea shop in Kunming as a tea master. My work is both challenging and fulfilling. I learned a lot from interacting with my customers. There are myriads of fascinating stories and they all help broaden my own life experience.

I paid off my debts to PEACH and the government in two years. Every quarter, I sent one or two thousand RMB to my parents. It helped a little bit to my family. My brother and sisters could buy their favorite things.

I am grateful to PEACH for being with me all these years. I am glad that I stayed the course and did not give in. I am so happy that I survived all those grueling years.

 

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