A Mule and its Owner

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Wang Cunguo was born in 1952 in Shiqiaotou, Fenghua. His mule has been with him for ten years. He keeps it at the foot of the hill behind his house every day. Every time when it hears Wang’s motorcycle heading home, it shouts happily and goes around in circles. Wang often goes behind his house to play with it, which would laugh and act like a child. Over the course of ten years, Wang and his mule have been carrying masonry and cement within mountainous areas in Fenghua, Shaoxin, Yuyao, and Xinchang. Usually after ten years with mules, owners would sell them. Wang’s mule is turning that age soon, and his wife always wants him to sell it as soon as possible. Now, his mule costs 5,000 yuan, but if he procrastinates, the money would keep dropping. Wang knows that once his mule is sold, it would be killed for food. He is not ready. His mule is a member of his family now.

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Nostalgia: The Snake Catcher

At his sixties, He is a snake catcher. Besides farming, he often catches snakes in the remote mountains. These areas with few families living remain traditional and natural. Many villagers have the skill of catching snakes, which counts as their part-time job. The nephew lives with the He family. At the age of 7, the boy was left alone since his mother was diagnosed with cancer, while his father died from cerebral hemorrhage. The responsibility to take care of him went to the Hes. Since the nephew is only a teenager, and the family is not rich enough to make a living, the local government offers them 640 yuan every month. Some entrepreneurs in Ninghai help them as well.

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Nostalgia: Explosion

In 1938, the militia of Shimen Village hid three grenades in an obsolete shack half way up the hill. Hearing the news, several children went uphills and stole the grenades. Since the structure of grenades was simple, the children disassembled them. Feeling excited about the detonator, they decided to ignite it. The bravest boy, who was eight years old, was the one holding it. There was no firework as expected. However, the right hand of the boy was injured; all of the fingers broke. After seventy eight years, this boy now becomes a man washing vegetables at the bank of the stream. He is only able to pick the vegetables with these broken fingers.

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Nostalgia: The Peasant Secretary

This 94-year-old man named Hu used to be a tenant farmer, an occupation passed down within his family. Their low social status made them oppressed for the most of the time. At one night in 1949, three People’s Liberation Army soldiers came to visit his house. He was so scared that he tried to escape. The soldiers stopped him, telling him amiably that Ningbo was liberated and that they would like to invite poor peasants like him to join the local Peasant Association in Banpu Village. Soon, attending its first meeting, Hu began to work as an honorable grass-roots cadre. The house that he lived in belonged to a landlord previously, and it was given to him and another peasant after confiscation by the government. Hu later became the secretary of Banpu Village. Now, with his wife, he spends the rest of his life in Banpu enjoying a serene lifestyle and an abundant pension. (Banpu Village, Ci City)

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Again, the story of Hu shows the theme of how people’s life would be dramatically affected by history. While some people moved downward along with the liberation, Hu moved up. History consists of tons of people’s life moving either upward and downward; Hu is just a small portion of it. He is the lucky one among them. It is fascinating comparing the stories of different individuals living in the same time period.

Nostalgia: Picking Lotus Roots

Near the Airport Road, a young couple is seen cultivating lotus roots. Passing by, you can always find them bending over. Even in the cold December weather, they wear thick water-proof clothing working in the field on their own. Chilly winter is the best weather for high-quality lotus roots, but picking them can be very complicated. Lotus roots grow at random directions in sludge, and every root has to be picked completely with one’s bare hands. The farmers have to be meticulous in order to prevent them from breaking. Bending for the whole day, the couple finds it hard to straighten themselves back again. Working for the whole year on the 10 mu* of lotus root field, the couple makes 100,000 yuan annually, which seems to be a lot for farmers, but only they themselves know the hard labor behind that money. (Fanshidu Village, Yinzhou)

* 1 mu ≈ 0.1647 acre

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The story of picking lotus roots reminds me of Outliers: The Story of Success, my summer reading. One of the chapters in the book talks about why Chinese people are good at math. The answer lies in hard work. Chinese people worked diligently from generations to generations planting and weaving despite the seasons in past. These spirits are shown in the current generations. The couple picking lotus roots regardless of the weather to make a living. They inherited diligence from past generations, and I am sure that it will be passed to the future generations as well.