This is Life in Shantou - Life is hard, but better than the past

A special series of articles about ordinary people living in Swatow, written by students from Shantou University (STU) Cheung Kong School of Journalism

by Gao Min (高敏).

It was the Christmas Eve in 2010, Xuyin Wu was absorbed in a play about the birth of Jesus at a church in Shantou, performed by a group of children.

“Life went completely different when I was a child,” she said, keeping her eyes glued to the children.

58-year-old Wu lives alone on the allowance from the government, which is 225 yuan ($35) per month. Her one-room apartment costs about 80 yuan monthly. It is tidy with four whitewashed walls,  a washroom, a bed, and some cooking utensils.

“It is the best house I have ever lived in my life,” she said with a big smile, kept rubbing the middle finger of her right hand.

Her wrist was broken in 2008 as she fell down. It aches occasionally.A friend suggested her to have a try on the medicated plaster. It cost her 0.7 yuan to buy ten pieces of medicated plasters.

“It was really cheap and helpful. Thanks to it my hand feels better now,” she said and kept laughing.

“Nowadays, we can get treatment in the hospital when we were sick or got hurt. But when I was a child, it seems impossible,” she said.

Once her nose got hurt when she was a little girl, and her mom used Chinese folk prescription to deal with it.

“We couldn’t even have enough to eat and wear at that time. How could it be possible for us to go to a doctor,” she added.

Life was totally different when she was a child. She went to primary school when she was 12 years old. And two years after she entered school, the Cultural Revolution begun. She has to stop going to school and stayed at home to do house work. During that time, her parents tried to do some business, but they were forced to stop.

“To raise one more chicken was named capitalist at those days, so it was forbidden if people wanted to start business,” she said.

When she was 19 years old, she was sent as an educated urban youth to Boluo County in Huizhou City, to do farm work in the countryside.

“That’s Chairman Mao’s call, we had to obey,” she said with a sigh.

Leaving home for the countryside, with no parents, no education, no electricity, her life became even harsher.

“We need to chop wood from the mountains and cooked with it,” she said.

During that time, the only meaningful thing she considered was reading the newspaper.

“I can read a lot of words now because of the reading in those days,” she said.

When she was 31, she came back from the countryside to live with her family in Shantou City as before. After that, she refused to work in the Health Bureau because she disliked the easeful work in government department and wanted to runher own little business. Finally, she decided to learn sewing.

At that time, renting a little house, sewing and mending clothes to earn money, sometimes visiting friends, these were the ways she lived before she retired and moved in the house now.

“Though I was single, I did not feel lonely because I was busy with my work and I have a lot of friends, especially after I became a Christian,” she said.

“People burned something when they wanted to get something. I considered it was ridiculous,” she added. “As a Christian, I don’t need to do that. Being simple-hearted is enough to own a happy life.”

So after someone preached the gospel to her,she became a Christian.

When the news came to her family, they all scolded her, saying that she hadbetrayed their ancestors. Her younger brother even wanted to break off relations with her.

“Once I went to visit my younger brother, he drove me away from his house,” she said. “But now, they saw that I can live by myself for sure and they accepted it.”

She went to turn on the light, saying that “however, looking back to the past can’t do any good to the life today.”

“I am satisfied with this house and my life now. Though it seems hard in someone’s eyes, but I think it is much better than the life in the unforgettable past,” she added.


Article reproduced by kind permission of Shantou University (STU) Cheung Kong School of Journalism.


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