A Tough Woman I Know


People call her Xiangtama, it means Xiang’s mother. Xiang is her second son. Xiangtama is from the same village where I stayed as a Zhiqing (Educated Youth) during the time of Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). She is about 5 or 6 years younger than me. She was just a little girl when I was there. Her parents have only two daughters, she and her young sister. When she graduated from primary school, her parents couldn’t support tuition fees for two of them any more. Xiangtama chose to quit school and let her sister continue her education. She said that her sister was more like a material of study, and Xiangtama started her work in the fields at very young age. It was true that her sister became a teacher in city after graduation from college and then a school master; her husband is a dean of high school, their son has found a good job in a government office recently.
Two sisters have different destiny after 20 years. Xiangtama is still in the village. She also made a family, and have three children, first son Jun, second son Xiang and a daughter named Fang. Xiangtama’s husband is an honest man from a remote village near the border of Hunan Province. The area has small cultivated land and big population. As a live-in son-in-law, her husband is discriminated in the village. Maybe for this reason, her husband always works outside in some construction fields. For Xiangtama is the only one daughter at home inherited 8 mu (0.53 hectares) rice paddy which was distributed from People’s Commune in 1983 when the late chairman Deng Xiaoping announced to abolish it. The other reason is that Xiangtama’s parents are getting old and need somebody to take care of them.
Jun is the first son of Xiangtama. He is a strong and handsome boy. But he’s never interested in any farming work at home. From very young age he went to the city, stayed around in the casino or night club, and followed some upstarts as bodyguard. When he made some monkey he spent it like a rich man. When he was in debt, he disappeared. Xiangtama had to pay all back. She wanted to change Jun to have a different life by marriage. But only two years later, Jun left his young wife and baby daughter at home. And he disappeared again.
Xiang is the second son. He is a hard-working and honest man, and. He gave his mother a big hand at home. Every year after busy season in winter he went to Guilin to find something to do, he didn’t care how hard the job is, as a porter or a worker in construction filed. He just wanted to ease his mother, and save some money to get married. Xiang is an unlucky man. When he was going to marry, about a half year before the wedding, he got a big pain on his back one day. He went to see doctor for checking up. The result surprised everyone. He got a kind of unusual rheumatism. The doctor told him "this disease is difficult to cure" and suggested "don’t do any heavy work", so it sentenced there is no future in his life. His ex-bride and her family heard the news. They soon broke the betrothal. Xiangtama took him everywhere to see doctors, Chinese or western. She spent lots of money which they earned from field. Many years passed, now Xiang is older than 30. I met him last year; he told me that he is much better now. And he has no problem to do some light work. He raises some pigs at home which can support him. When I asked him when to make a family, he said that he hadn’t thought about that. Anyway, Xiang is optimistic about his future.
Fang is the only daughter of Xiangtama. Fang went to Guilin and worked in a hotel as soon as she finished middle school. Her parents really hoped that she could marry a city man and remained there since she was good-looking. Then Xiangtama could have a place to stay when she came to Guilin to visit relatives. But Fang have already had a man in her heart, who was her classmate. Xiangtama was disappointed at that, but she couldn’t change anything. Fang went back to the village and got married. She moved to her husband’s village which is not far from her home. Now Fang and her husband have a good life and have two children. Every year during the busy season, they come back home to help her mother with the rice harvesting.
Xiangtama takes care of the 8 mu rice paddies. She grows two crops a year and sells rice more than half. Her rice grows well because she moves manure to paddy from sty and straw and uses it more than chemical fertilizer. She cultivates more land as well to grow vegetables and soybeans. Vegetables can be harvested twice a week and sold in the market. She can use soybeans to make bean curd and bean sauce. Bean sauce is a kind of condiment that is fermented and very delicious cooked with cured meat and bacon.
Xiangtama’s homemade bean sauce is my favorite, best one I have ever tasted. So Xiangtama can sell her bean curd and bean sauce in the village, and she doesn’t have to go very far to the market. Several years ago, I met Xiangtama in Guilin, she said that her heart got some problems, and the treatment was too expensive and she didn’t buy any medical insurance, like most farmers in China. My wife and I gave her some medicine from my father-in-law according to her prescription since he enjoys special medical insurance for his long history of working for Communist Party. We tried to say something to comfort Xiangtama but it seems nothing serious for her. "Life is to live", this is what Xiangtama always tell us.