A Winter Day in Baitian “陋室铭”

On a gloomy winter day in 2009, I visited Huanru Chen and Lanjiao Huang, who live in a dingy 10×12 room in a village in Guangdong, the richest province in South China. Though I knew about them, I was still shocked by what I saw that day. It is not the same picture presented by the media reports about China’s economic growth.

It was a typical winter day in Huanru and Lanjiao’s life. There was little to do and they tried to warm themselves by staying in bed, half covered by a quilt.  And there was little I could do, except listening to their complaints about life and revealing their living environment, proof of their struggles.

Huanru and Lianjiao lost their old house  to the  re-routed Bejing-Guangzhou railway track in 1995. Now half of their old house is under the railway, the other half unrecognizable. The compensation they received for the old house was far from sufficient, not enough to build or buy a new house.

They could have moved in with either of their sons, but they chose not to.

The older son is an irresponsible gambler, the cause of fights in the family. The situation worsened when the gambler lost his only son to drowning. Their younger son is mentally ill, and must be institutionalized from time to time.

The old couple decided to move to an abandoned  storage room in their village. It was at first a temporary shelter.  But when their grandson drowned, they spent all their savings adopting a grandson so that the family line could be continued.  As they live on limited incomes, mainly from growing vegetables, they don’t see any hope of ever moving to a better home. They will probably spend the rest of their lives in this gloomy 10×12 room, which serves as their bedroom, living room, kitchen and toilet.

Huanru and Lanjiao, who share a family tree with my family (I should call them cousin according to the family tree), live in the suburb of Heyuan, a city only two hours away from Guangzhou, the third metropolis in China.

按照我家的族谱,陈欢如和黄兰娇算是我的堂兄嫂。虽然我们家很早就离开了老家白田,我自小就认识他们。他们的窘境,我时不时从父母口中得知。

去年冬,我去看他们。看到他们的窘迫,很震惊。两张饱经风霜的老脸,一间间狭小、昏暗、漏风的陋室,无需过多文字的旁白,足以诉说一对农民夫妻的际遇。八十岁的他们,能赶上的,都赶上了:日侵、内战、文革、饥荒、改革开放、因城市化而丧失土地和产房。如果不是命运的作弄,他们大概也可以从改革开发获点益处的,但事实偏偏相反。京九铁路的改道不仅吞去他们的房子,更让整个村庄四分五裂,农民到周边的开发区打工,农田慌了。有的人,总想着发财,却不务正业,赌博乃至吸毒、偷抢。兰娇和欢如的大儿子就很懒惰,且嗜赌。老人家说教无数,儿子只当耳边风,依旧赌。他们也只有默默忍受了。欢如和兰娇的小儿子患有精神分裂症,时时入院,他的媳妇带着几个孩子度日艰难,顾不上公公婆婆。老人家只能自己照顾自己。

最大的打击是他们的长孙在97年淹水而死。他们怕大儿子无后,花了将近一万块钱,收养了一个孙子。养老钱没了,从此日子更加艰难。他们住在村子的旧粮仓。房子窄小、昏暗,更是漏风漏水。我看望他们的那天,天凄冷。欢如坐在床上默默吸烟。兰娇坐在椅子里,手夹在双腿间以取暖。我们有一句没一句地拉家常。他们问候我的父母,问我弟弟是否结婚,姐妹的孩子有多大。然后就是叹息。叹息命运之不济。这不济之命运,究竟是谁的错呢?是他们老而没文化?还是因为儿子不肖?或是因为社会的变迁?也许都有一点?

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