When I was a child, I lived in a small village not too far away from Ningbo, China. By ‘not to far’ I’m using today’s standard – about an hour and half driving (Ningbo is three hours drive from Shanghai). Back then, it’s perhaps a day’s drive, or more. I wouldn’t know for sure, because I never went to Ningbo that far. Even if I did, there was no road all the way to Ningbo so I would have to trek in the between.
I lived with my grandparents in a house with no running water. No one in the village had. But we were not in short of water. We had our supply of clean and clear water from the river running through the village. In warm days the river was my bath tub, and often I came back with dinner as well – fishes were abundant and shrimps were easy to catch, back then.
There was no TV of course. In fact there was no electricity. So the dinner was always served before the sunset so that we would see what we were eating. After the sun set, everyone got together in the yards – every family’s yards were connected one to another with no fence so it’s almost like one big communual yard shared by many families – and chatted over some sunflower seeds and a cup of tea (or a glass of rice wine in the case of my grandfather) under moon light and trillions of stars. We kids ran around, somehow managed not to hit nor fall too hard with no light on. Perhaps it was because of the glow from the glowworms we caught.
I had never seen a commercial toy at that time. But I loved the paper birds and butterflies that my grandfather made for me. They really flew.
My grandfather was, and still is, one of my favourite person. He carried me on his shoulders to the open air movies. He let me taste his rice wine (I was perhaps the first drunk baby in the entire human history). He read me stories from black and white pocket-size story books he collected and I loved the stories. It never occured to me till recently that my grandfather was never schooled so I wonder how he managed to teach himself to read. I would never be able to ask him the question in person. He passed away six years ago.
The village was located in a valley surrounded by mountains. I spent my days running wild in the mountain in summer, sometimes with no shoes on. Shoes were expensive things so they were reserved for the occassions when they were not easy to break. But I was lucky to have an older sister so that all my clothes were taken care of. My first brand new cloth didn’t arrive till when I was in primary school. It was such an event that I still remember exactly what the dress was like – the dress was in the most beautiful blue with white laces around the neck. I loved it.
I left the village at five to go to the town to join my parents and my sister, and to get ready for school. For many years to come, I would return every summer to spend shcool holiday there with my grandparents. Since my grandfather passed away, my grandmother moved away to be closer to her children. I never went there again. There was no more reason to.
Now I live 12-hour airplane away. Our home is next to bush. Birds visit the backyard often. We don’t have TV at home. There is no street lights so when the night falls the stars become brighter.
At times, it feels like back in good old days. Almost.
To Nina, who would grow up in an entirely different, yet somehow similar, world