The air in Guilin is scorching hot, and temperatures have climbed to over a hundred degrees. Although we’ve escaped from the city to the countryside, we can’t escape the heat. Even the metal on our tandem bicycles we’ve rented is hot to the touch.
Instantly, I begin to notice signs of Chinese rusticity. Although the huts nearest to the city have actual bricks, they still appear to be on the verge of collapse. I immediately find myself doubting the sanity of those who are willing to risk their lives in such structures. A little deeper into the land, and the houses – if they can really be called houses – degrade into a mixture of dirt and dust. My father says that even at night, the houses are like little ovens because of the heat. His grandparents lived in similar huts, and most of his cousins still do. The farmers’ ability to endure is astonishing, I think to myself. I would’ve succumbed to the heat long ago.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Several hours later, I see people with rusty hand spades hunched over wilted-looking plants in dry fields. Despite the hot sun, they’re wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants. It’s because mosquito repellent is expensive, explains my mother, and a farmer’s salary is very low. She too, is descended from farmers.
My incredulity at the residents’ persistence resurfaces again as I see people washing their clothes in murky and foul-smelling brown pond water. They’re like weeds, I say to myself, suddenly amused. Even in bad conditions, they keep on persisting.
A moment later, I see an old woman slowly wheeling a cart of unsold produce. Her dark brown skin has attained a leather-like consistency from age, and hunched over, her weary walk is a tread.
How can she still work? She must be at least ninety.
I see her enter a small, grime-covered house on the side of the road. A small child runs out to greet her – the first I’ve seen here. Suddenly, to my disbelief, her despondent demeanor cracks off like a shell, and within seconds, it’s replaced by an infectious vitality.
At this moment I finally understand the will of these people. Their will is tied to their children, and in this case, their grandchildren. As resolute as weeds, they sweat and labor for the sole purpose of providing a better future for their children.
I suddenly grasp the commonality of such an event – there must be millions of people like her in China. It is then that I begin to see a connection to my own life. I remember my mother telling me about my farming great-grandparents, and how they lived in conditions even worse than those of Guilin. Though most of their children still became farmers, enough money was saved for one to travel to the city and become a carpenter. Several, through hard work and sacrifice, managed to go to school and become engineers. One even became a physicist. Some traveled to America, eventually giving rise to my generation.
Back in the countryside, I spot some weeds growing – miraculously – on a rock. Already, there’s new soil around the roots; the product of decomposing plants and the roots’ own breaking down of the rock. Delicate, pale pink wildflowers and other fragile plants have begun to grow in the newly-made soil. They’re just like me, I realize. Just like the flowers, my life is the way it is largely due to the efforts of my farmer-ancestors and the later efforts of my parents and grandparents. They, like weeds, provided the foundation so that others could bloom and prosper.
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