有一种空虚叫做农村 – There is a void called the countryside – English

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I have feelings of love for a small store in my hometown: every time I return, I go there to buy something, or have a chat with the owner: how is business these days, how are things at home, how old are the children, oh, junior high already! It’s basically the same questions every time, and I’m the person asking, he thinks there’s nothing new to mention, and thinks he’s imposed a dull life on himself, yet he answers, without showing any trace of impatience, he will pour some tea for you with a moving sincerity, and though his eyes always show some sort of confusion, since days and years just repeat themselves in the same fashion, it seems inevitable that there should be some confusion. The shopkeeper is one of my relatives. In terms of precedence, he’s from my uncle’s generation, and as much as I can remember, when he started running this small shop, it was located in a remote corner of my hometown, and in that remote corner, his shop was all there was, and so this shop seemed to become a focal point of that remote corner of the village. When you went to a nearby town or village, you had to go past the shop, and my uncle would greet you with a gentle smile every time. Or when you went out to buy food, when your shopping was done and you came back along the road, my uncle would greet you with the same gentle smile as ever, and say: ‘oh, you’re back’. But I also secretely think that this uncle is slightly bitter, because the people from his generation who went to the big city are all wealthy and respectable, and every New Year, these people who made a fortune in the big city will be driving by his shop, and only bicycles and motorcycles from his family members will pile up at the door of his shop.

In recent years, It’s become clear to me that more and more people are fleeing their rural hometown. For a period, our home in Shenzhen seemed to become a transfer station for the brightest of our relatives who came to work or look for work in the big city. They first lived in our house for ten days, two weeks, or up to six months, and in this period, they asked my dad or another relative who’d come to Shenzhen earlier – and therefore fared better – to help them find a job; and once they had a job, they could start renting their own place, get married and have a child. For them, no expenses should be spared on the wedding ceremony, and after the wedding, it was like they had open wounds, from which their blood poured out non-stop. What I’m trying to say is, for the wedding, they planned to give up all their blood and money, wedding for them is a question of face, and it would directly determine whether they would be well received, or not, from their relatives. They generally had two wedding ceremonies, one in Shenzhen, and one back home. After the wedding, that is, when they got a child, they generally left the child in the village for old people to look after, and they returned to Shenzhen to work and do their business. Apart from New year, when the village is relatively lively, it’s just old people with children. Some old people bring children along when they go on visits: these small children are one of the rare things that bring pleasure to their life, and they give them a reason to stop by other people’s homes, since holding a small child always gives you an added reason to enter another person’s house, it makes you feel much more at east. But when these small children have grown up, or when they’re gone back to the big city with their parents, the old couple is all that remains in the house, and they either start gambling to while away the time, or they sit down waiting for their life to finish. Next to our house, there is an old woman, and it seems to me like she’s sitting at the door all day long, she looks out the door and, when someone she knows passes by, she tries to catch them with a sentence, and get someone to talk to. During the new year festival, when I pass her door, I know she’s standing in the doorway. My eyes try to avoid her, thinking that might allow me to escape her. But her sharp eyes notice me, she shouts my name, I instinctively stop my steps, and instinctively turn towards her. And as she sees me turn around, she forces me into a conversation about her relationship to my great-aunt. Do you know? Your great-aunt was my class-mate, we got along greatly. When you two were class-mates, I wasn’t even born! That’s what I think, but on the surface, I can only bite the bullet, and at the risk of my ears breeding a silkworm, I have to let her finish. There’s another old man whose hobby is also to sit on the threshold, but he’s not in the habit to catch other people and chat with them, when people pass by his doorstep, he just looks at them blankly, and his shrivelled mouth makes his whole face seem a little helpless. Several times, he’s looked at me blankly like that, and I also looked at him blankly, walking on, but I secretly felt some pity for him in my heart. This year, when I came back home for new year, I passed by his door again, but this time, I didn’t see him sitting on his threshold, and I guessed he probably passed away. And there are other elderly people who seem to have no interaction with anyone in the village, their children and grand-children have all moved to the big city, their other half has already passed away, and they keep guard over their empty house alone, at six in the evening, sometimes before the sky even gets dark, their doors are already closed, and they’re lying in bed. But the life of those who gather small groups of friends and get together for card games and gambling is much more enjoyable; card games and gambling seem to have become the only way for old people in the village to forget their loneliness.

In Shenzhen, people from the same hometown join associations and have regular events. In the end, the association is a group of people from the same village who get together for dinners – those with money contributing money, and those without contributing their time – and the seat they occupy at the table reflects the strength of their position in the big city. The association board gathers men who gained money and prestige in Shenzhen, and the meeting moderator will say a few emphatic words about how us people from the same village should work and live together, imitating the tone of the Spring Festival presenter on TV; the general assembly will also pay for good singers to come and perform songs like ‘Beautiful days’ or ‘I love China’, and from beginning to end, the whole event has festive music playing in the background, but the reason most people come is just to enjoy a free meal. After the three years of famine, in some villages, nobody was left, they had all starved to death. But today, in my hometown, more than half the people are no longer there: these people have all left to the big city, and every year, in early December, they gather in a restaurant in Shenzhen, and share a large free meal before scattering away.

Not long ago, my grand mother back home applied for the village’s old age pension, about ten yuan per month, and she’s now over eighty years old, and every year when I go back home for new year, my grand-mother will give me a little bag to me with about ten yuan she saved through many hardships and privations, and inside the bag are many one cent coins, and every time I tell her to keep it and spend it herself, but I know that she’s started saving again, and from this year onwards, she’ll have a dozen yuan every month from her pension to save, she’ll surely be smiling from ear to ear, and when she starts smiling, she looks really good, really kind.

One of my uncles said, he wants to move to Shenzhen with his whole family next year, no longer raise pigs, and drive his tractor to carry cement, and no longer live a garbage life. His older cousins in Shenzhen are doing alright. My uncle has an optimistic view of life. He knows, it’s time to move to the big city and enjoy his old age.

Sina: http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_69a6b62401019plv.html

Weibo: http://weibo.com/u/1772533284


Sources :

source: My1510, 08 December 2012
source: Image source: Xinhuanet

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]