My Years in Re-education Luo

When we got to the village, we were exhausted. We had just walked two days up the mountain and just wanted to go to bed, but before we could, the village headman needed to look through our things. He examined one item at a time as the villager looked on.

He was nearing the end of his search, when he came across the violin--something he, nor anyone else in the village, had apparently never seen before. Ma was holding his breath. He had played it a lot in the city until Mao's Revolution, when all western music was banned. The village headman was shaking the violin, expecting something to fall out of the holes.

He finally came to the conclusion that it was a toy--a bourgeois toy--and decided that they should burn it. I couldn't take the look on Ma's face any longer.

"Comrade, it's a musical instrument," I said.

He handed it to Ma to play for the villagers. He played something by Mozart. When asked what the piece was called, seeing that Ma was having trouble, I cut in.

"Mozart Is Thinking of Chairman Mao." And that was the end of the search.

The first time I saw her I didn't like her. Not because she was ugly, no, she was the most beautiful girl on the mountain. It was because she was too uncivilised for me. She was uneducated and had a wild quality about her when she laughed (or in general, really).

We went to the Little Seamstresses house to lengthen my trousers. Despite my lack of sleep and poor diet, I had still grown out of my clothes. After she lengthened my trousers, she offered us water, which was a sign that she liked us because "on this mountain, and invitation to take a drink of water meant that your host would crack some eggs over the boiling pan and add sugar to make a soup" (Sijie 26).

While the Little Seamstress was cooking, I came up with the idea to play a little trick on her.

"Did you know, Little Seamstress," I said, "that you and I have something in common?"

She didn't quite believe me, so we put it to a bet. If I won, I wouldn't have to pay her to lengthen my trousers. We agreed and I told her to take off her left shoe and sock.

"See, our second toes are longer than the others!"

She bought it and I walked out of there having saved myself a few Renminbis.

One cold day in early spring, the village headman gave us the day off, so we went to see Four-Eyes at his village. We had heard that the water buffalo had finally broken his glasses, which was bound to happen at some point.

We found him going down the mountain to the rice paddy to do work. I was astonished that he was still going to work despite being blind as a bat. He had a blank, dazed look on his face that made him look unintelligent, although we knew he wasn't (he loved to write).

"You're mad. Without your glasses you won't be able to manage that mountain path," I told him, worried he would hurt himself.

He told us that he had already written to his mother for new glasses and he couldn't stop working because he didn't want to be seen as lazy or incompetent.

I decided not to argue and let him go to work, but I decided that he shouldn't carry the hod by himself, because that would be too dangerous. I didn't want Four-Eyes to fall and break his neck.

A while before the water buffalo broke his glasses, Ma and I had come to visit him and Ma had found a suitcase full of books, western books, banned books. So when I decided to help Four-Eyes with the hod, it wasn't completely because I wanted him to stay safe, but also because I wanted a book. Help in exchange for one of his western books I've been so desperate to read.

When I mentioned this to Four-Eyes, he refused and walked on with his hod, but the odds were against him. The snow made the path more slippery and he couldn't see the path. Four-Eyes was stumbling and falling over as if he were drunk. Despite the situation, I thought it funny the way he walked, I think I succeeded in not making it known that I was amused though. In the end he accepted our help.

When we got back to his house he gave us a book by a French writer called Balzac. The book was called Ursule Mirouët.

Balzac became my favourite author; and Ursule Mirouët my favourite book. After I read it, my eyes were opened up to a culture different from my own. One so vastly different that Mao had banned it from our country's library.

Later on that year, when Four-Eyes was at his going away party, Ma and I snuck into his house and stole his suitcase of books. That was the last time we were there. Although we knew Four-Eyes suspected that we took it, he didn't dare confront us--for obvious reasons. We burned the books after reading them. They were too big a risk.

Credits:

Created with images by Capt' Gorgeous - "Luggage" • Pezibear - "instrument violin music" • dimitrisvetsikas1969 - "sewing machine old antique" • joyosity - "PA253116" • moerschy - "money china rmb" • manhhai - "Rice_Paddy_Plowing_Water_Buffalo" • whitefield_d - "photo" • DariuszSankowski - "fire open hot"

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