Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

High Bridge 

Yesterday morning Tom and I took the village bus to the village where he grew up. The name of his village is "Gao Qiao," which means, "High Bridge." His family's farm is located in a beautiful little mountain valley. Everyone we saw thought I worked for the oil company, because Chevron has a project going in that community. Tom told me that when they first came to town, 400 people died because of the gas. He mentioned natural gas, but I am thinking it was probably a bleed off of H2S gas. If an oil well leaks H2S gas and it happens to be a low area where the gas gathers in a little gully or something, it can be really dangerous.

We visited several people who had more than one child, including a family with three daughters. In China, if a family does not have a son, they tend to keep trying until they get one. People in the countryside often have no retirement system. Country folks are typically not wealthy, but they are also not destitute. They get by okay. But the day they stop working they are in trouble. There is no money unless they have children to support them. The daughter becomes part of her husband's family, so she is not generally viewed as a source of income. So everyone wants to have at least one son. The kids I teach in Beijing are a little different. Because of their high test scores, their future job prospects are quite a bit better. So families with a daughter still fare pretty well. But in the countryside, the difference between having a son and having a daughter can be drastic in terms of how it affects your retirement years.

Last night we got together with some of Tom's classmates. Tom left his village after middle school to get work. He lived in Hong Kong for six years and worked as a cook. Most of the young people we met had stayed in their home town, but they had similar stories, in the sense that life in a small village limits options considerably. There is no high school in Tom's village. So going away to high school is like going away to college. Working people are just not inclined to do it.

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